As I write this, more than 61,000 Americans have lost their lives to the COVID-19 Coronavirus in a very short period of time, and that number is sure to rise. More than 30 million Americans are out of work, millions are working from home, schools are closed and many of us are in states that have had “stay at home” orders from our governors for the past several weeks. Billions of dollars have been spent to try to keep the economy from collapsing into a depression.
We have many questions, such as:
- How did this virus start? For example, was it in a lab in Wuhan, China?
- How does it spread?
- How deadly is it?
- What will happen when our states start to open back up?
- Will the virus come back in the fall?
In the weeks since we started hearing about the Coronavirus, I have been fascinated by watching how leaders (federal, state, local, organizational and church) have responded. What can we learn from how our leaders have led in this crisis? Here are a few observations.
Leaders are Visible. In times of crisis, we need to see our leaders, whether they are in government, business, or the church. President Trump and many governors have been holding daily briefings sharing the latest information related to the virus. Leading medical experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx have often appeared on cable news shows, sharing information and answering questions.
Pastors have been working hard during this time to stay in contact with members of their congregation. One of the things our pastors have been doing is a helpful short “Midweek Update” via video.
Leaders Communicate. This pandemic has brought us all kinds of new terminology. Prior to this, we didn’t talk about “Flattening the Curve” or “Stopping the Spread” or PPE. I doubt that the word antibody was a part of your normal conversation, as well. Leaders need to be visible, but they also need to make sure that they communicate effectively. The two are certainly related. In a crisis, we need to be able to trust the information we are getting from our leaders. During the pandemic, we have looked to our leaders to hear about the number of positive cases in the country, our state and community. We have looked to them to find about testing sites, the symptoms we need to be aware of, and whether our “stay at home” orders will be extended, modified or lifted.
Leaders Innovate. Because we can’t gather in person during this time, leaders have had to be innovative on how they work with their teams. Be honest, how many of you had even heard of Zoom prior to the pandemic? Perhaps some of you had, but I trust not many. Church leaders have been regularly holding meetings through platforms like Zoom during this time. They are giving a lot of thought toward how to handle things in their churches as we are gradually allowed to come together to worship again.
Church leaders have also had to be innovative on how to stream their worship services. While some churches were already streaming their services prior to the pandemic, many, including my church, were not. In our situation, our pastors worked hard to have our services available online the next Sunday after our stay at home order went into effect. Yes, we went through some trial and error, after all, they are pastors and how to stream a worship service was not something they were taught in seminary. But even though we did, everyone appreciated the effort that was made.
Positives. What are some of the positives we’ve seen from leaders in this time of crisis? The President quickly formed the White House Coronavirus Task Force, putting the Vice President in charge. He listened to the advice of medical experts in implementing mitigation efforts to “stop the spread”. He used the full power of the federal government to obtain PPE and used the military to move it to the “hot spots” in the country. It’s been interesting to watch the balance of power – all leaders have boundaries and have been trying to decide where theirs ends and another’s begins.
Governors such as Cuomo in New York and Pritzker in my home state of Illinois, have held daily briefings to keep their citizens informed.
Mistakes. We are still learning about the Coronavirus. Early on, some leading experts, including Dr. Fauci, got some things wrong. Politicians in New York and San Francisco were assuring their citizens that it was safe to go out in large groups. The FDA’s testing got off to a slow start. The President, who tends to “think out loud”, made comments encouraging the use of hydroxychloroquine.
Some leaders, such as Governor Whitmer, over-extended their power, leading to mass protests in their state. Some leaders seemed to go out of their way to target churches.
Politics. After the 9-11 tragedy, for a time, our politicians put their differences aside. But in today’s divisive political climate, politics has inevitably been a part of the pandemic, especially in an election year. We have seen the President and some Democratic Governors taking shots at each other. The “blame game” has already started, and will only intensify as we approach the November election.
Second Guessing. We are already hearing from a growing number of people that we shouldn’t have done the mitigation (there’s another one of those words that we didn’t use much before the pandemic) that we did. The President himself has said that the cure shouldn’t be worse than the disease. There will be commissions, reviews and finger-pointing that will take place as we analyze the approach our leaders took in the midst of the pandemic.
Moving Forward. This pandemic will most likely be the greatest challenge that most leaders will ever face. A leader is measured by how they handle difficult times. The jury is still out on how our leaders will be judged to have handled this pandemic. Among the many questions still to be resolved are:
- Will the President and Governors be able to safely open up their states?
- Will our leaders be able to get our economy back to where it was, getting people back to work and saving businesses at risk?
- How are we preparing our country to better handle the virus when it comes back in the fall, as is anticipated?
- How will church leaders effectively handle people coming back to church, especially in light of new social distancing guidelines?
We can learn a lot about leadership by watching our leaders during difficult times. What are some of your observations about leading in a pandemic?