It is difficult for me to express just how sick of talking and hearing about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID -19), I am. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not sick of it just because of the toll that it has taken on people around the world, but I am sick of it because of the unique challenges it has presented in leadership. As I am trying to be faithful in leadership, I needed to think through these unique leadership challenges. The following are some obstacles that have made leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic even more difficult.
Lack of Research – Leadership is more difficult during this time because of the novelty of the virus itself. COVID-19 is new and with little research, it has become difficult to make wise decisions. There are many researchers working very hard to understand this virus and for that I am very grateful. Serving one of the oldest populations in the nation, the cost of decision making is very high. New information is coming everyday with some later information contradicting what was understood earlier. The newness of the virus and the subsequent lack of understanding has made decision making far less certain.
Refusal to Adjust to a New Normal – Things have changed. The pandemic has forced many out of their leadership box and things are not going back in that box for a longtime, if ever. Many are just waiting for the day for things to “get back to normal”. Well, this virus may be the defining event of this decade. This will be the event that people talk about for years to come. Waiting around for things to return to the past may require a time machine to accomplish. Trying to function today like nothing has changed can result in disaster. Things have changed. We are moving to a new normal. No one has ever led under these circumstances before; be a part of the solution not the problem. No one really knows what the new “normal” is going to look like. When things get dangerous, you must slowdown and be more cautious. A leader cannot recreate the past but he can lead others to the future.
Refusal to Understand that not all Decisions and Decision Makers are Equal – All decision making, and all decision makers are not equal. Some methodically examine the available data and then decide. Other leaders make quick decisions from their gut. The process by which decision makers come to their outcomes may be radically different and end with totally different decisions. The formation of a leader is unique to that leader. As a result, his bias or guiding principles will affect his decision-making methods. Different variables may lead to different outcomes in decisions. Just because a decision has been made does not make it right or wrong it just means a decision has been made. This virus has placed more high stakes variables before more leaders and they are making decisions, but not all decisions or decision makers are equal.
Equating Opinions with Knowledge – Just as all decisions are not equal, neither are all opinions. Social media has provided a platform for opinions to be shared with more people than ever before. Rarely is social media a platform for experts to share their educated, thoughtful, research backed advice. I know of no researcher who has taken to social media to share his findings. In fact, the popular level of social media and news sites are often more like junk food for the brain than they are a place to disseminate serious information. Maybe its because people have had more time on their hands, but more opinions are being shared backed with less knowledge about viruses and the transmission of disease than in anytime in recent memory. Leaders are forced to navigate the world of opinions and actual knowledge, and that has become treacherous.
Propagating Conspiracy Theories – It seems as though people have a hunger to know “what’s really going on”. Maybe it is because of years of investigative journalism or a thirst for the Mystery genre, but people seem to love a good conspiracy theory. Propagating conspiracy theories during a pandemic can be deadly at worst and can be a waste of time at least. We all must be careful with what we share. Not everyone is trying to deceive you and not everything that is said is meant to deceive. You may believe that you have found “what’s really going on”, please be careful with the what you share. A leader’s responsibility is to lead others forward together not to foster division. This virus has become a hotbed of conspiracy theories. As a leader you cannot play “what ifs” with the lives of others. Leader, be careful with what you say, people are listening and you are responsible. You are constantly teaching people to trust or distrust what you say. When you propagate poorly sourced, junk Science, you are teaching people not to trust your leadership.
Using a Difficult Situation to Further a Political Agenda – People do not exist in a vacuum and it is virtually impossible to communicate without some level of bias. All news is delivered with some level of bias. Some of the news bias aligns with my own bias and some does not. If ever there was a time that we need a “just the facts” approach to the news, it is now, but that seems to be too much to ask. A leader is forced to wade through the bias and get to the facts in order to gain enough information to make the right decision for those he leads. Trumpeting a political agenda or decrying the political agenda of others is only going to further divide and ultimately prevent people from moving forward. Leader, keep focused on leading people not winning a political argument.
Failure to see all Life as Valuable – It is a tough pill to swallow to hear those who do not see the life of the unborn as valuable, talking about the fragility of life during the pandemic. It is also difficult to hear those who are pro-life talking about how many people will die anyway and the cost of restarting the economy. The motivation for any leader should be the preservation of life. Regardless of any descriptor, a leader cannot have a cheap view of life and view people as a means to an end. A leader must lead carefully because all people are of value and the greatest lengths must be taken to protect life.
Leadership is a challenging task. Leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic exceptionally difficult. Understanding these obstacles can make life easier for you as a leader and easier for you as you are being led. We will get through this, but the outcome remains to be seen. A leader cannot simply decry problems but must actively work toward solutions. Leadership is inherently difficult, and this situation is uniquely difficult. Don’t get weighed down under the difficult tasks, but recognize that these difficult tasks can be a part of increasing your leadership capacity.