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URGENT! Enlightened Leadership Needed.

· Leadership

Trump and the rattled business leaders who are pleading with him remove some of the stringent social distancing measures have foregone any efforts to think outside the box in order to find effective ways to manage the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. They have decided to just directly think out of a coffin to jolt the economy away from ruin, the nation’s health be damned.

Choosing between life and jobs is not a choice, it’s an inhumane imposition.

As coronavirus cases continue on the rise, along with an increase in the number of deaths, American leadership threatens to hit a new low by offering Americans a new choice: life or jobs. There’s no doubt , as Fred Hiatt writes in March 24, 2020 The Washington Post Opinions A.M. digital editorial, that sustained isolation is dangerous to our nation’s economic health and that returning to normal life when the virus infection curve hasn’t even peaked is just as, or even more, dangerous.

Both scenarios are obviously unsustainable. But real (and humane) leaders don’t capitulate to wishful thinking. They bring the best minds together, in this case virtually, (and there are so many good and creative minds in America!) to look for a Third Way.

  • Why not set up a Creative Solutions Task Force that brings talent in from all sectors of society to brainstorm solutions that can stave off potential economic ruin without endangering people’s lives?
  • Why not launch a virtual government initiative to pool resources with other international partners (yes, including China) to develop massive fast-testing capabilities (Hey! Senegal in West Africa is already working on this in partnership with a UK company)?
  • Why not work collaboratively, instead of in competition, with countries leading in the search for a vaccine? Researchers in the U.S., Australia and various nations in Europe are already working alongside their Chinese counterparts to create the first vaccine that can treat the virus. Imagine Trump asking, and yes, even imploring pharmaceutical companies to work together to develop a vaccine that can be made available to the world while having an international task force work through the business aspects of pertaining to ownership and profit sharing.

Instead, Trump is considering ditching safety measures, in defiance of public health experts not just in the U.S., but also in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in…everywhere else, and spewing magical thinking and over-optimistic statements based on anecdotal evidence and his by now proven bad gut instinct. Meanwhile,

  • American legislators are butting heads over the novel coronavirus stimulus package, as one or the other side of the aisle tries to do one better over the other side, forgetting that no virus is partisan. Plus, it’s not about them, it’s about the American People who elected them.
  • pandemic skeptics take Trump’s lead and try to escape reality by negating the existence of a deadly virus and willfully ignoring that their personal health now directly affects the health of others.
  • those who are lucky enough to be able to do their jobs from home highlight, through no fault of their own, the racial and socioeconomic fault lines that leaves many stranded and disconnected.
  • sales in ammunition and guns increases.
  • fraudsters are playing joyfully online.
  • some landlords continue delivering eviction notices.
  • capacity for widespread testing is failing and the health system teeters on the brink of exhaustion.
  • the demand for midwives rises.

Meanwhile, the President of the U.S.A. is failing to lead, preferring instead to sport a war-time suit to cloak his paralyzing fear that is just doesn’t fit right. Because this is no time to act and posture. It’s no time to take the stage for self-aggrandizement, media bashing and fact-free hunches.

It’s time to lead

It’s time to lead for the common good, however difficult and unpopular the necessary decisions may be.

It’s time to use briefings to provide critical information truthfully.

It’s time to break bread and join hands virtually to rally business leaders to take their part and responsibility in looking for creative solutions to an unprecedented situation.

It’s time to help unleash the creative yet realistic potential of the millions of brilliant micro and small business owners battling on the front lines of the economy.

A leader sees what can be, not just what is, and creates new roads. There are thousands of leaders stepping up across America. Businesses, both big and small, are already thinking outside the box and coming up with creative solutions to shutdowns. Broadway, symphonies, museums, restaurants, and many other employers are delivering solutions. Many others are working on them: healthy eating cooking classes, life coaching, tele-health and tele-therapy, virtual wine tasting, errand runners, safari classrooms, drive-through clinics, and many more, all around the world.

Businesses are suffering, yes. But they’re already developing practical and viable solutions. The government should be negotiating a support package for ensuring market development and consumer capacity, not capitulating to a few (big) business leaders who are rattled because they are short on creativity.

Instead, President Trump wants to look tough by loosening social distancing restrictions in defiance of public health experts, and in spite of evidence that these restrictions have proven to be the best measure to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Trump can find no better solution, despite supposedly being an experienced business developer and the best at the art of a deal, than to ditch safety. One must wonder if he’s already jumped into a coffin and can’t find a way to think himself out of it.

America needs enlightened leadership NOW!

As a leader, Trump should be thinking about the future and looking at things differently to discover potential where others see problems. As the Nigerian proverb says: In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams.

The job of a leader is to

  • define, not accuse;
  • articulate the truth, not factoids;
  • unveil reality, create unity with clear goals, motivate collaboration and synergies, and power action through vision;
  • take complexity and bring clarity by distilling it down to its bare essence;
  • not speak for an hour if he can say it in seven minutes;
  • put a damper on tension in the press room and bring a comfort level to the nation.

Time management is critical. But it’s not about making sure you have time to tweet or to push aside health experts in press conferences. It’s about knowing what the “big stuff” is. This requires understanding and acting in the context in which we live and operate while thinking forward, without blinders.

Leadership is difficult, especially in times of crisis. But good leaders are life-long students. They seek to improve one’s leadership skills by learning from the successes and best practices of others. At this moment, President Trump could learn quite a bit from the timeless lessons practiced by many a Chief and his Council of Wise men and women in any given remote village in Africa (based on Paul Seger’s book Chief, 2013):

  • successful leadership is about influence, not authority.
  • leadership begins with character, not position; it’s about serving those you lead to ensure their success rather than being served for one’s own self-advancement.
  • a leader seeks to empower others to lead; the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.
  • leadership is about getting somewhere better through positive impact; people want to follow a person who captures their hearts and emotions and is committed to forward movement, because, in the words of motivational trainer Zig Ziglar, people “don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.
  • good leaders provide others with the tools and training to move forward and succeed.

To be a “Chief”, every leader to needs someone to lift him/her off his/her own limitations. Criticism helps you do that. In fact, in times of crisis, criticism can become a leader’s badge of honor…if he can differentiate between efficiency and effectiveness, between doing things right and doing the right things. If he can do neither, he’s in trouble.

Trump would do well to set apart some time for daily reflection on the following five African proverbs:

  • Sudanese proverb: A large chair does not make a king.
  • Tanzanian proverb: Do not forget what it is to be a sailor because of being a captain yourself.
  • Kenyan proverb: A leader who does not take advice is not a leader.
  • Nigerien proverb: The same sun that melts the wax, hardens the clay.
  • Ethiopian proverb: Because he lost his reputation, he lost a kingdom.

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC

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