How do good leadership acts amidst the covid-19 pandemic? These are some of the characteristics of leaders during pandemic.
1. Act urgently.
The risks of slowing down decision-making are often invisible. But in a crisis, it is dangerous to waste vital time in the vain hope that more clarity will show that no action is needed is dangerous, especially in a pandemic with an exponential growth pandemic, when every extra day of delay contributes to yet another devastation more significant than the previous.
2. Communicate transparently.
Communicating bad news is a thankless task. Leaders at the forefront run the risk of demoralizing employees, customers, or citizens and jeopardizing their popularity. It takes wisdom and a little courage to understand that communicating transparently is a real antidote to this risk. As Ardern put it in his first national speech:
“I understand that all these rapid changes create fear and insecurity. Especially when it means changing how we live, that’s why today I am going to set out for you as clearly as possible, what you can expect as we continue to fight the virus together.”
You are communicating transparently, giving honest and accurate descriptions of reality, being as humanly straightforward as possible about what you know, planning, and what that means to people.
3. Respond productively to Mistakes.
Due to the novelty and complexity of a pandemic – or any other significant system failure – problems will arise no matter how well a leader acts. Just as important as how they approach the crisis is how leaders respond to inevitable missteps and unexpected challenges.
4. Committed to constant updating.
An all too common misconception about good leadership is that a leader must be consistent and relentless to stay the course. Of course, stability is required in these times. But given the pandemic’s novelty and rapidly evolving nature, it is wrong to think that the leader’s job is to chart a course and stick to it. Leaders must continuously update their understanding of past probabilities, even daily, by deliberately employing strategies to gain new information and learn rapidly as events unfold and further information emerges.
To do this, you must rely on expert advisers and vigorously seeking different opinions. Silver has relied on a long and diverse list of consultants as he worked his way through this crisis: from NBA sports medicine director John DiFiori to his China-based colleagues who saw the early toll of the virus, to an ex-US surgeon general, Vivek Murthy. A leader’s advisory team when faced with an ambiguous threat because new information often means new problems have arisen, and the required expertise will evolve accordingly. Part of the challenge of updating is finding and leveraging the right people for developing issues is part of the upgrade challenge.
5. Exploiting suffering to build meaning
Perhaps Silver and Ardern’sArdern’s proactive responses were incidents of history rather than a particular outburst. When the first coronavirus news reached Silver, he wrote a eulogy for his longtime mentor, former Commissioner David Stern. Also, it wasn’t long after former star Kobe Bryant and eight others were suddenly killed in a helicopter crash. While these events were unrelated to Covid-19, they may have put Silver in a virus’s thoughtful mood to see the emerging threat of the virus through a human lens. Likewise, Jacinda Ardern felt gloomy in March, when it was a year ago of the Christchurch Mosque shooting that killed 51 people, the deadliest mass shooting in her country’s history.
Most of those in positions of authority have experienced much suffering or loss – or at least their advisors – and too many people have failed to take potentially unpopular action on caution days when the virus has gained momentum. They could say they tried to stay professional: stay rational and unemotional, keep their emotions at bay, and wait for their moment. But the cases of Ardern and Silver suggest an opposite approach.
We believe that leadership is strengthened by continually referring to the big picture as an anchor for meaning, by resisting the temptation to classify or view human life solely in statistics.
Being a leader in an uncertain and fast-moving crisis means making yourself available to feel what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes – to lead with empathy. Perhaps the unfortunate magnitude of this pandemic will make sympathy easier for many leaders in the coming weeks. But a hideous staircase can also have a paralyzing effect. Leaders will be responsible for bringing themselves into others’ suffering, feeling empathic and thinking intelligently, and then using their position of authority to pave a path for all of us. Historically, crises can create leaders with historical distinction, but this is far from guaranteed.