It is a difficult time to be a leader. As the Coronavirus pandemic has unfolded, all of us have witnessed our national, state, and business leaders respond. Let’s set aside any political leanings for the time being, as it is not useful to the lessons here. Instead, let’s explore what we have and what is missing from leadership now.
What We Have
Blaming and Finger-Pointing: In many cases, we see leaders blaming each other for an inadequate response, a lack of supplies, and for not having the foresight to have done better. Great leaders take accountability. They take responsibility for their missteps, mistakes, and missed opportunities (which is one of the reasons I continually write about the need to help your clients see around corners). There are bright spots here, with some working to solve problems without complaint and without blaming others. Instead, they are asking for help.
Deflecting the responsibility does nothing to improve your circumstances, nor is it effective leadership.
Selfless Leadership: Would you wish to see real leadership in action, then you have to look to the first responders, the medical community, the doctors and nurses, and paramedics and all the staff that supports them who bravely and selflessly deal with a heretofore unimaginable crisis. We are going to struggle to express our gratitude for their sacrifice and their contribution. It may require a national holiday.
You see leadership in action from our medical communities.
Increasing Compliance: There are measures many of us are taking to flatten the curve, like social distancing, washing our hands, and being sheltered-at-home (here in Ohio) or shelter-in-place in other areas. Businesses deemed non-essential are closed. Regardless of what you may or may not believe about this virus, at the time of this writing, it took one month to go from a single death to one thousand deaths and forty-eight hours to get to two thousand deaths. It is frightening to imagine what would have happened without taking these measures.
In leadership, compliance is essential. But it isn’t the only thing that is important. Our leadership is still lacking, and there is room for immediate improvement.
What We Are Missing
Hope: I will point you back to this blog post I wrote on our being in the middle chapters of this story, the part where we are facing our fears and our adversary, even though we are ill-equipped to do so. What’s missing from our leaders now is hope, and you will find none on offer. You have not had the mumps, the measles, polio, or smallpox. In the end, we win. In large part because of limitless creativity and ingenuity, and in part because we never quit until we win.
Leaders provide hope; they believe there is a better future available, even if it takes enormous effort to obtain it.
Vision: No leader has yet shared with us an idea of how this ends, when it ends, or how to reclaim what we have temporarily lost. In large part, this is due to the need for compliance, but it’s equally because no leader has allowed themselves to imagine our future. The lack of a willingness to commit to an ending should not prevent us from looking to a future where this crisis is no more, even if we lack a date. Not only is this necessary, but it would also improve compliance and allow for better coordination.
Leadership requires a clear vision of a better future, or it is not leadership.
Coordinated Execution of a Solution: In Ohio, we are just coming to the end of our first week of shelter-at-home. A few states went before Ohio, including California, and now many more are just starting to take the measures already in place elsewhere. The national conversation has shifted to the question of how we save the economy at the same time, with scientists suggesting that a coordinated effort to identify who is at risk and who isn’t would allow us to restart sooner.
What we lack is a George Marshall, someone who can see the whole picture enough to coordinate our effort. Leadership is execution.
Meaning: In the end, this all has to mean something. We have to find something valuable in this experience, something worth the pain and the suffering and the sacrifices and our losses. So far, no leader has shared what all of this means, and it may be some time before a leader emerges who can speak to how this should change us. When they do, they won’t talk to our fears, nor will they accept the temporary measures we took to protect ourselves and the ones we love as “the new normal,” a revolting idea that smacks of giving up.
Great leaders provide a sense of meaning.
In the ten years that I have been writing a daily blog post, I have intentionally written about principle-based ideas, steering clear of what is topical. This has included all fads (except for naming them as such), as well as the temporary. I have been unable to avoid writing about our current crisis, the lessons being too great to ignore, and posts I hope will be useful in the future.
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Filed under: Leadership