Bold Leadership (Almost) Everywhere You Look

It often takes a crisis for true leadership to emerge. Our current situation is no different. Thankfully, bold leadership abounds.

Look no farther than the world of sports. The National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) all made gut-wrenching decisions to suspend play, cancel championship tournaments, and/or delay the beginning of their season. Hundreds of millions of dollars lost — all in the interest of protecting fans, players, their staffs and venue workers. And while we will be without any sports for at least a few weeks — including the NCAA Tournaments, arguably, the most exciting sporting events each year — we should appreciate the enormity of these decisions. The leaders know that CORVID-19 poses a potentially lethal threat to all and have taken the brave and incredibly wise action to neutralize its potential head on. Equally impressive was the speed with which the decisions were made. No long, drawn-out process. No floating of ideas, no public debate. Last Thursday the decisions from each organization were announced within hours of each other. Disappointing, to be sure, but the exact right thing for them to have done. Leadership in action. Bold leadership at that.

The same can be said about the closing of school districts and universities throughout the country. Nike closing all U.S.-based stores and Apple’s shutdown of all retail locations outside of China, both with the promise to pay their affected employees as normal during their 2-week work stoppage. The shuttering of live theaters in New York City and around the country. AMC deciding to sell only 50% of each theater’s seats to enable social distancing. Disneyland, California Adventure, Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando, Six Flags parks, LEGOLAND. Museums. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Boston Marathon. The cancellation of symphonies, concerts, music festivals and corporate conventions. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Princess Cruises, Viking Cruises are suspending operations. The closing of all ski resorts in Colorado and most in California. Many organizations instructing their employees to work from home and curtailing corporate travel. The states of Louisiana and Georgia postponing their primary elections. Churches, mosques and synagogues suspending prayer services and other communal events. All bars and wineries in California to close; restaurants there to reduce capacity to 50% to allow for social distancing. All painful, all expensive. Yet all are highly commendable and worthy of our praise, given that they are designed to keep us safe and to lessen the spread of the disease. Again, leadership in action.

Every one of these decisions was based on the science of this highly-infectious respiratory disease. What we know for certain about COVID-19 is that no one is immune and that it spreads from person to person. The risk of infection is higher for those who come in close contact with people who are already infected — where ‘close contact’ is defined as being within 6 feet. Risk also increases for people with ‘underlying conditions,’ which includes high blood pressure, a condition afflicting millions of Americans.¹ The virus spreads via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person expels anything from her or his mouth while coughing, sneezing, or even talking. A person can also contract the disease by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes. There is no known limit to the number of people an infected person can spread the disease to.² Symptoms present themselves between 2–14 days after exposure. This means that someone can carry the disease and not even know it for up to 14 days — or even longer.³ For this reason, one can feel completely healthy and still spread the disease to many others. Such is the insidious nature of this virus.

That proximity is required to transmit the disease — and that it’s the only way to get it — offers a solution and hope. More on that in a moment.

In stark contrast to the many examples of bold leadership, there’s Fox News and its most avid viewer. Professional and collegiate sports organizations believe the pandemic is sufficiently serious to suspend their operations and to forgo hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. They know it’s not a hoax designed by Democrats to take down the President as you have repeatedly claimed night after night. They also know that specific steps are required to protect oneself, like washing hands frequently, avoiding hand-shaking and social distancing. Even school-aged children know this. Yet, a new study shows, frighteningly, that Republicans are less likely than Democrats to wash their hands, use sanitizers and refrain from touching others in response to the coronavirus.⁴ Political affiliation, shockingly, was a more significant differentiator than gender, age and ethnicity. How might this have become a partisan issue? Simple. You, Fox News, and the President made it a partisan issue. Your viewers, who are largely Republican, trust the intentionally misleading ‘information’ you and the President promote. Which, of course, is completely contrary to medical science. Because of you and the President, all of us are at greater risk. Our children, our grandchildren, our loved ones. Your dissemination of conspiracy theories, rather than facts, is endangering our families, the entire country, and, possibly, the entire world. You and the President should be ashamed of yourselves. What you’re doing is decidedly not leadership. It’s the farthest thing from it. It’s criminal.

Having said that (and, no, I don’t feel better), there are several important steps worth serious consideration to help us get through this uncertain period:

  • Suspending all trading on the U.S. stock exchanges. If the business world is to shut down — which seems inevitable — let’s take the extraordinary step of closing the U.S. stock exchanges for at least 2 weeks. If there is not to be betting on sports, let’s not allow betting on corporate earnings — especially when most businesses will underperform during these turbulent times.
  • Creating local centers to provide no-cost COVID-19 testing on demand to everyone. Anything short of full testing — not just those who have symptoms, as the President’s emergency declaration shortsightedly states — is essential, given that symptoms are not a requirement for carrying the disease. Remember, one carrier can infect the entire world. We will need dozens of centers placed throughout each community in convenient, drive- and walk-up locations. The tests must be free and without the need for a physician’s referral.
  • Covering the cost of lost work time as ‘catastrophe pay’ via low- or no-interest loans from the federal government, and/or extending the maximum time permitted to collect unemployment benefits, to ensure that everyone prohibited from working can pay bills and continue to eat during this period. This will be expensive. But it will undoubtedly be cheaper than not controlling the virus and, more importantly, be far less expensive than the emotional cost of the loss of life. And we can’t rely exclusively on the generosity of some athletes and a number of sports franchises to donate money to pay workers in sports venues now shuttered. (Thank you, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors, the Dallas Mavericks and a host of others for stepping up.⁵) This is not the time to worry about money, nor is it the time to turn our backs on those who will be most hurt by the many closures.

As insidious as the virus is, it can be first slowed and then defeated with vigilance, testing and social distancing. We can do it. No work, no sports, no live entertainment, no communal religion, no social events, no travel. Yet, we will survive. We might actually talk to people we haven’t been in touch with in years. Think of the books we can read, the bad television shows we can binge, the parks we can visit, the hikes we can take, the children we can reconnect with, even if only electronically. We might also emulate the Italians and sing together.⁶ There are always upsides and we will find them. Because if we don’t, with no thanks to Fox News, the virus will do what viruses do: spread to every living human being on Earth. I’m betting on us to kick its ass.

¹ https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/03/these-underlying-conditions-make-coronavirus-more-severe-and-they-are-surprisingly-common/?cmpid=org=ngp::mc=crm-email::src=ngp::cmp=editorial::add=SpecialEdition_20200313&rid=AA9971F3FB880ACAF0495F48C6E2A0F8

² https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf

³ https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/symptoms.html

https://www.washingtonian.com/2020/03/09/hand-washing-is-now-a-partisan-issue/

https://nationalpost.com/pmn/sports-pmn/athletes-teams-pledge-donations-to-impacted-workers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q734VN0N7hw

Alan is a consulting psychologist with a long and storied history of helping organizations of all sizes become more enriching, empowering places to work.

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