COVID19 Leadership Stars

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COVID19 Leadership Stars

memphis • 10.20.20

Everyone has their favorite culprit to blame for the year 2020 being such an unmitigated train wreck. But, with the battle in mid-stream, I’m not sure that we’ve given proper credit on the other side of the ledger to those whose leadership is standing out in a meritorious way, with considerable effect. So, for a few minutes, let’s concentrate on feeding the opportunities rather than starving problems. They’re not going anywhere.

In a recent leadership lecture for business students at the University of Memphis, I highlighted four examples of great leadership that come to mind, exemplars if you will: Jacinda Ardern (PM, New Zealand), Dr. Anthony Fauci (Dir., NAIF), Chef Jose Andres (CEO, WCK), and Adam Silver (Commissioner, NBA). 

Each is associated with significant leadership efforts to counter the COVID-19 virus within a nation or other population, and is credited with exceptional performance across several dimensions.

Jacinda Ardern – Prime Minister, New Zealand

Committing her nation to eradicating (not merely managing) the virus, Ms. Ardern mounted a bold and timely response to the pandemic, and assuring its success via good self management and excellent stakeholder communications. Her efforts, and early results were not lost on New Zealand’s voters who just re-elected her by a landslide. Oh, and another thing, to date, the virus is virtually eliminated from New Zealand.

Chef Jose Andres – CEO, World Central Kitchens

A fearless innovator with a head for food, logistics, and a huge heart, Mr. Andres is the world’s go-to guy for feeding large numbers of people who suddenly find themselves in desperate circumstances. Whether it’s feeding tens of thousands of Puerto Rican residents after Hurricane Maria has devastated the island, or Native Americans in the New Mexico desert, his job is hard enough as it is without dropping a deadly virus on top of all the other logistical puzzle pieces.  Yet, with an indomitable spirit and constant yearning for process improvements, he eats it up

Dr. Anthony Fauci – Director – National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

One of the world’s foremost immunologists, Anthony Fauci, at the age of 79, has spent the last year representing science to and on behalf of the American people (actually a global audience), and representing the American people to their government, both formidable tasks. But it doesn’t end there. Displaying an abiding interest in speaking truth to power and being unwilling to knuckle under to immense pressure to alter his truth, he has doubtless been the recipient of multiple trips to the White House “woodshed”, some right out in the open. Throughout, his is perhaps the lone voice that Americans are willing to put their trust in. As someone told me last week, “If and when Dr. Fauci tells me a vaccine is safe and effective, I’m sticking both arms out. Anyone else, not so much.”

Adam Silver – Commissioner – National Basketball Association

A businessman, and lawyer by training, Adam Silver runs what is arguably the world’s preeminent professional sports organization. On March 11, 2020 when the first NBA player tested positive for COVID, he summoned the knowledge base he’d been acquiring for better than three months, broke the glass and sounded the alarm heard instantly around the world, doing what no one else had done, he ordered everyone out of the NBA pool. Then, taking into account the interests of a broad constituency – fans, arena owners (and staffs), players, owners, and the game itself, his team fashioned an improbable way to safely and fairly complete the competitive season inside a bubble (he prefers “campus” at Disney-Orlando), crown a champion, and get ready for next season. Throughout, despite being in an extremely media conscious environment, he managed to pull it off, stay off the court, and let the players be the the stars of the game. Ding!

So what, you might ask. Here’s what; I’m told that, in Chinese, the word “crisis” consists of two characters, one representing danger, and the other, opportunity. When we become completely absorbed by one, we tend to overlook the other, often at considerable expense. So, while you’re keeping your head down, keep your eyes open, and as always, your mask on.

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