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What Can You Learn From the Response to the Virus?

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This is not a political statement. In fact, for this I urge you to put your political leanings aside.

It’s important for leaders to learn from the lessons presented to them in everyday life. Much of what I have learned about leadership, both good and bad, came from observing and evaluating what I’ve seen other leaders do.

For the last year we’ve had a very real, very unwelcome, but still very useful study of leadership as national, state, and local government, and business leaders have struggled to respond to the corona virus. This is an especially valuable opportunity for study as the virus and its affects have been experienced around the world. In fact, not since the great depression of the early 20th century has there been an event that has affected just about everyone on the planet.

As you perform your evaluation, follow two rules.

1. Approach your analysis as dispassionately as possible. Emotional response is normal, but doesn’t result in the best analysis.
2. Find facts, not just opinions. Don’t rely on a single source of information. What really happened? What did others really do? There will always be people who want you to believe a certain way but good leadership means making a concerted effort to find the facts. Another reason for rule #1.

Now, consider what happened. As with all critical situations we encounter in life, this situation has been very fluid. So start your evaluation from when we first learned about the virus, then follow the trail as information changed. Did world leaders take the correct actions? What did they do right? What could they have done better? Given what you know, how would you have responded?

The virus was not only a serious health issue, but quickly became a serious economic issue. One of the hardest tasks a leader has is to weigh everything that is known about a situation and then take the action that is the best approach, knowing not everyone will agree. The leader cannot afford the luxury of listening to only one source of information, or favoring one expert over another. Decisions must be based on what’s right for the organization or in this case, the population as a whole. Were they? Why or why not? Again, what would you have done?

Each nation took a little different approach and within the United States there were at least 50 different approaches to what can best be described as disaster mitigation. For this evaluation you have the benefit of hindsight; so, gathering as much information as possible, which leaders took the best approach to meeting the overall needs of their populations? Were there any leaders who seemed to be more successful than others? Why or why not?

Although we will likely not have to respond to a disaster of this magnitude again in our lifetimes, there will be other crises for you to deal with. What lessons can this situation provide that will help you be more effective in dealing with those crises?

Now, shift your analysis to business leaders. The impact on business, especially small local business has, I believe, been unprecedented. What have you seen business leaders do? In your own company, and others you’ve observed, did company leaders attempt to adapt? Did they embrace a flexible approach or hunker down to wait it out? For those who have survived, why? For those who didn’t, again, why?
Finally, the hardest evaluation. What did you do well? What could you have done better?

Sort through all the hyperbole and the loudly opinionated and find the real answers to these questions. It isn’t easy, but the best way to be prepared for the next crisis is to learn from the current one.

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