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Leadership in a Crisis.

I am putting the final touches to a new leadership master class. It’s six core themes are:

  • Have in use an established and guiding set of values
  • Have an understood plan
  • Communicate clearly and honestly – do not cover up
  • Work with the end in mind
  • Delegate clearly, completely and with unconditional support
  • Celebrate the successes of others.   

The most important is the first – having a set of values and living by them.

I am no expert on the Corona-Virus but a pattern of behavior is emerging which suggests few if any of the six themes are being honored. Here is my take – let me have your thoughts.

  1. The Virus is important. It has affected people throughout the world. In the US it is now our No1 killer – 1800 per day since April 7 – more than heart disease (1774) or cancer (1641). There is significant evidence the virus could reach 50% of all Americans with a fatality rate of 1% or 1.6 million deaths – or more – China is reporting a fatality rate of 5%. The virus is important and yet almost all our figures are guesstimates. If we cannot estimate the fatality rates we have no idea of the numbers who may be carriers – the CDC estimates 25%. Researchers in Iceland suggest 50%, China has recently corrected to 60%. It would be sensible if all nations came together to pool their expertise  and research. It would be extraordinarily sensible if politicians, demented by their own self regard, would stop and listen to the experts, and accept that it was their duty to accept there might be no cozy answers, no pat results.
  2. There are already some emerging strategic guidelines. The pandemic requires a vaccine before it will be fully confronted – and that will take at least 12 months. Until then we need to take two “helper” decisions:- deliver millions of test kits everywhere to provide the bed rock of future statistics and at the same time build an army of “contact tracers”. We may have 2500 for the whole nation, China trained 9000 in Wuhan alone! At the same time we now know that home isolation kills families; hydroxychloroquine does not help; sufferers can catch the virus repeatedly; the virus is not confined to cities, it is already starting to spread.
  3.   Leadership is not about heroics, it is about confronting the truth. Many nations were late recognizing the shocking scale and impact of the virus. Few had invested the time, leadership, or treasure to ensure a ready and robust response. Start from there, be honest, move on fitting your response now to the world we want to live in. A p[ossible strategy emerges that could have just three major steps:

          – Form a global communications center – precisely why the WHO is so important. If it needs to be improved then improve it.

  • Encourage, support and collaborate with scientists of all nations. China is a major ally in this, not an adversary.
  • Create an a-political US team of experts to oversee US action – testing kits and contact tracers would be a start. Regular and honest progress reports and specific advice would then be a help.

In my master class I came to the realization that often the problem remained as much as anything with the leaders themselves. Few of us are equipped to succeed in bad times as well as good. Perhaps the ultimate test of a leader is knowing when to strand aside and let his new team have full rein. We have long since passed that point here in the United States.

Have a good day, James