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Maybe We Need to Reassess What Tomorrow Looks Like

“I’m fully prepared to live with the consequences of my actions. What I couldn’t live with were the consequences of my inactions.” – Elizabeth McCord, “Madam Secretary,” Barbara Hall Productions, 2014 – 2019

Enough already!

We get it.

2020 is going to go down as a crappy year, so let’s please put it in the rearview mirror!

What good is a global pandemic if you can’t learn something from it?

And since we were in lockdown longer than expected (a week woulda’ been okay but…), we tried to figure out what was done wrong, what was done right.

What we’ve experienced is a real time example of normal leadership distribution, what statisticians refer to as a bell curve.

This leadership bell curve has the good and bad occupying the bulk of leaders.

Bell Curve – When it comes to personal and professional abilities/goals, most people are located somewhere between the outer points of the bell curve. These are the people who keep life and business moving and “interesting.” Then there are the few – very few – that guide and run businesses and governments. Some are very good; some are very bad … the “type” in charge can make a big difference.

Then, at the outer edge on both sides we have the ugly – the kind you wish on people you really don’t like – and the Shining Lights – the ones you want running your country.

On the one edge of the curve we had leaders who said, “Yes, I tested negative. Thank you for asking–everything is great!”

They included:

  • Vladamir Putin – USSR
  • Rodrigo Duterte – Philippines
  • Donald Trump – US
  • Jair Bolsonaro – Brazil
  • Kim Jong-un – North Korea

On the other side, we had leaders who took decisive steps to control the COVID-19 spread and protect the country’s citizens including:

  • Tsai Ing-Wen – Taiwan
  • Jacinda Ardern – New Zealand
  • Angela Merkel – Germany
  • Katrin Jakobsdottir – Iceland
  • Sanna Marin – Finland
  • Erna Solber – Norway
  • Mette Frederiksen – Denmark

Notice anything special about the two ends of the governmental/management bell curve?

Yep, on the one side you had a bunch of guys interested in themselves.

On the other side, there were humans interested in their country, their citizens.

So, what did our Shining Lights do that was so special?

  • At the first signs of the illness, Tsai Ing-wen introduced 124 measures to block the spread in its tracks, ending up sending 10M face masks to countries that were scrambling for protection.
  • Jacinda Arern locked the country down early, imposed self-isolation, banned foreign travelers.
  • Angela Merkel told her countrymen early on that it was serious and would infect up to 70 percent of the population unless necessary, aggressive steps were taken.
  • Katrín Jakobsdóttir instantly offered free tests to every citizen to identify, isolate problems early – screening five times more citizens than larger countries early on.
  • Sana Marin, the world’s youngest head of state, marshalled social media influencers to battle the crisis and pro-actively attack the pandemic head-on.
  • Mette Frederiksen held a kids only press conference to explain the illness to kids and tell them it was OK to be scared but the government would do everything possible.
Earned Crown – In the olden days, rulers earned their power over time, knowing when to be tough and when to be gentle. It’s a difficult balance.

And in between there were 183 heads of state with varying degrees of success in leading – yes, you’re free to disagree with our choices and place your leader anywhere on the bell curve. It’s your right as a human being.

If anything, good has come out of the recent months, it’s not that women are superior to men, even though our daughter and wife would agree with that observation BAM!

No, because that would probably be called reverse sexism.

Instead, when you have a lot riding on the inputs, you want to be like John Glenn in Hidden Numbers when he said, “Let’s get the girl to check the numbers. Yes, Sir, the smart one. And if she says they’re good, I’m ready to go.”

Trust the Expert – When John Glenn flew to the moon, he put his trust and life in the hands of a woman he had complete confidence in. Both had a lot riding on the success of the flight.

Yeah, when you have a rocket strapped to your behind, you want the best recommendations you can get, regardless of who gives them to you.

It we were to dig more deeply into the pandemic performance of both sexes as heads of state, we probably would find guys who did a really good job and women who sucked–just as you’ve had or been around male and female bosses you admired as well as those you wonder WTF!

The people who did the best job of leading during the early months of the pandemic showed empathy, were consensus builders, acted quickly/decisively and communicated clearly.

Those that didn’t … didn’t.

Trust the Expert – When John Glenn flew to the moon, he put his trust and life in the hands of a woman he had complete confidence in. Both had a lot riding on the success of the flight.

The seemingly logical thing for a guy to do is to stiffen the lip, take the challenge head on, persevere in the battle.

In other words, go to war with it and lead with the decisiveness of a wartime president:

  • Milan’s mayor encouraged citizens to stay the course.
  • Britian’s PM said we know it’s going to be tough and we’ll fight through it.
  • The US’s President changed battle tactics/results, citing “them” as the enemy.
  • Brazil’s Bolsonaro encouraged his citizens to fight on.
  • France’s Marcon doubled down, saying “we’re at war.”

It was against an unseen enemy that we didn’t know much about:

– Why was Belgium hard hit and Japan barely touched?

– Why did Vietnam escape unscathed while Iran was brutalized?

– How did Canada crush the curve while the curve crushed the US?

– Why was it more fatal to some races than others?

It was a situation, a battleground with no meaningful, identifiable landscape or clear battle plan.

The battleground mentality viewed everyone else as complicit with the enemy except them and you … and they’re not too sure about you.

On the other side of the curve, there are leaders (guys and gals) who have a rather common set of skills – reliance on expert counsel, focus on consensus and a clear plan of action that is just as clearly communicated with empathy.

There is nothing wrong with choking up … tearing up … even crying.

In fact, Tom Lutz, author of Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears, noted that crying was common for men in the 18th century.

“They were viewed as brutes if they didn’t,” he noted.

Somewhere along the line it was determined that showing feelings and complaining are signs of weakness. But the truth is, a greater weakness is to furlough or fire. Is there a difference? Hundreds/thousands aren’t getting paid. Or there are people you treat differently than you expect them to treat you. Or you know that someone suffered or died needlessly.

Big Dip – The pandemic forced the global economy to come to a stop almost immediately, but people came together to restart businesses everywhere as quickly as possible to get life back on track in the new normal. The downturn was severe, and the recovery will be long and arduous.

Perhaps the pandemic was nature’s way of saying that AI and technology are nice, but we can’t take people out of the equation. Instead, it may be the opportunity to focus on some of the key global goals the ILO (international labor organization) recently suggested:

  • Develop a balance of health, economic and social activities to produce a sustainable labor market
  • Recognize that resources are finite, and sustainability needs to be considered
  • Address the conditions of vulnerable, disadvantaged, hard-hit groups fairly, equitably
  • Ensure solidarity, support of all countries – advanced and developing
  • Encourage open social discussion, respect all human rights

It all boils down to trust–being diverse, not divisive; and being empathetic, emotionally connected. Leaders at every level have to have these characteristics today.

Henry McCord said it best in Madam Secretary, “When everything seems to be lacking in integrity. You find it in yourself.”

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Andy Marken – [email protected] – is an author of more than 600 articles on management, marketing, communications and industry trends in media & entertainment, as well as consumer electronics, software and applications. An internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise in storage, storage management and film/video production fields; he has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.