Why Leadership is Vital During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A common misconception about leadership is that it must be stable and unwavering in staying the course. However, in times of pandemics, leaders must constantly revise their knowledge of prior probabilities and deliberately use strategies that elicit new information. Moreover, they must learn at a rapid rate as events unfold. Consequently, the role of influential leaders is changing in an unprecedented manner. Let’s consider some lessons learned from past pandemics and how leaders can benefit from this experience in the future.

Characteristics of an Effective Leader

Successful leaders such as former DaVita’s executive CEO, Kent Thiry, can adjust their decisions at the moment, even after previous ones have been made. They can make quick decisions, are willing to consider alternate pathways, and encourage “outside the box” thinking.

The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided valuable insight into the characteristics of good leaders. While many of these traits are considered “nice to haves,” they will become necessary in this time of unprecedented uncertainty. In this context, leaders will need to balance pragmatic realities with optimism. Therefore, leaders must develop these characteristics and apply them across the board. Leadership is not simply about being the boss but also about creating a culture of creativity.

Challenges of Effective Leadership

The Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID) has continued to spread worldwide, affecting public health, global economic well-being, and some of the essential practices of modern society. In addition, it has generated much anxiety and taken a tremendous toll on individuals and organizations, requiring leaders to develop new game plans and adapt to rapidly changing conditions. Although countries have responded differently to the disease, these three factors contribute to the challenges facing leaders and organizations.

While these events impact leadership at all levels, cross-functional influence is especially vital for mid-level and senior-level leaders seeking advancement in the organization. To be successful, leaders must have a multifaceted systemic view, understand interdependencies, and develop reciprocal influence among peers. Interestingly, women have reported more challenges related to cross-functional forces than men. Nonetheless, this gap is narrowing.

Successes of Effective Leaders

President Obama’s mixed messages about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and his support for a heightened competition between Democratic Party governors and administrations contributed to a lack of coordination and guidelines and exacerbated the situation. Leaders at the provincial and local levels were mediocre and did not meet their expectations. However, states run by Democratic Party governors were much more severe about containing the outbreak and achieved an overall approval rating of 80%.

A common thread among the prosperous COVID-19 countries is committed leadership, strict enforcement, public trust, and quick adaptation to new circumstances. This leadership is shared by government officials, school directors, general agents, and private sector professionals. However, solid central leadership is critical for a sound COVID-19 plan and national strategy. In the case of the United Kingdom, for example, the prime minister was confined to quarantine for the flu pandemic and had to call on cabinet members to lead the country.

Lessons Learned

The recent COVID-19 pandemic, caused by a new strain of SARS-CoV-2, has provided a valuable lesson in the devastating effects of infectious disease. The history of humanity is littered with global pandemics, but the COVID-19 outbreak may be the last. Numerous factors contribute to the risk of developing novel diseases in human populations, including expanding the disease vector range, destabilizing natural ecosystems, and rapid urbanization.

The lack of emergency supplies exacerbated COVID-19 response challenges. For example, several types of oxygenation support equipment, including respirators and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) technology, were not readily available. In addition, a lack of personal protective equipment such as gloves and face masks created a critical shortage. The availability of such supplies is often difficult to achieve in bulk, so a crisis in a developing country could increase supply shortages.

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