Learning About Leadership from the Federal Government

This thought provoking blog compares the current administration’s leadership regarding the emerging coronavirus pandemic, with what we know about effective leaders.

Day-by-day, even hour-by-hour, COVID-19 has created an evolving test of our adaptability and resiliency as a society. It has also presented us with a live illustration of effective leadership, if only by negative example.

Let’s compare the current administration’s leadership regarding the emerging coronavirus pandemic, with what we know about effective leaders.

1. Sound strategy is key. Effective leaders understand the importance and power of a sound strategy. Whether in setting the director for your organization, or determining how a community, state, or country should tackle a pandemic, basing action in sound strategy is critical to the success of any effort.

  • Upon taking office, the administration eliminated an existing, multi-disciplinary entity established to plan and prepare for global pandemics (the Office of Global Health Security and Biodefense at the National Security Council), and cut funding for the public body set up to coordinate national, regional, and local public health efforts (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

We are living the consequences of the failure to develop a sound strategy.

2. Partnering with knowledgeable and diverse voices, and acting based on facts, data, and lived experience provide a roadmap to success. Effective leaders assemble diverse perspectives to consider significant challenges, and partner with those sharing these perspectives to develop solutions. Whether you are deciding how best to enhance your mission (and partner your program, finance, and operations staff with community program participants), or how to “flatten the curve” of a viral pandemic (and partner public health, science, sociological, and educational professionals with medical and mental health experts), including the lived and direct experience of all who are / may be affected ensures that your solution will be more likely to achieve the goals you seek.

  • As the coronavirus emerged and began to spread, the administration decided not to act based on data and science, or in a way that was inclusive of various perspectives – downplaying the potential severity of the virus; refusing test kits developed in another country; describing coronavirus as a “foreign virus;” vilifying members of the opposing political party and their efforts to educate the public and develop a response; and sidelining most of the experienced scientific and public health community.

We are living the consequences of actions based on limited perspectives, and politics over data and science.

3. Decisive, yet adaptive actions are a critical element of any strategic response. Effective leaders are decisive, yet adaptive. They make decisions, and promote action within their organization.  At the same time, they continue to gather information from within and outside their organization to ensure that their responses adapt to changing contexts.

  • Throughout the past several weeks, the administration has acted seemingly from instinct and politics, rather than from intentional decision-making

We are living the consequences of confusing decisions that have changed over time. 

4. Clear, direct, and consistent communication builds support for your actions and buy-in from partners and other affected constituents. Effective leaders communicate – clearly, directly, and often. As decisions are made, they inform staff, board members, volunteers, and the broader community; providing the rationale to help them understand why you’ve decided to advance a chosen course of action.  A CEO sends an email and holds small-group conversations to discuss the organization’s decision to expand services into a new community given the clear need for these services and the opportunity to create positive change.  Or a governor holds a series of town hall meetings across her state to define what a “state of emergency” means and why it’s been called, after announcing this decision on social and traditional media.

  • The administration communicated about COVID-19 inconsistently, and offered inaccurate or misleading information.

We are living the consequences of inconsistent and unclear communication based on insufficient and inaccurate information.

These lapses in leadership have hampered our national response, caused considerable panic throughout the country, and potentially increased the number of people who will get sick.

And so, let’s learn from the “leadership” shown at the federal level . . . learn how not to lead effectively as we guide our organizations.
Stay safe, remember we are in this together.

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