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Observations and Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Observations and Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic
As the world has watched and experienced the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic, what have we been able to observe and learn about this real life example of the crisis environment? Clearly, the loss of life has been tragic, and it may be quite some time before we’re able to ensure the health and safety of people around the world with adequate treatments and preventative measures. But the pandemic does provide an opportunity for high-stakes leaders to learn from their observations and experiences. Not so much to facilitate critique of those leading the COVID response, but to draw lessons and insights from the crisis, to help us deal more effectively with the next one.
As we’ve already established, experts suggest that one way to think about a crisis is that a presents a threat of some sort to one or more stake holders value proposition. What value propositions do you believe have been threatened by this virus? As you think about the various members of populations and organizations around the world, what should these people expect of their business and community leaders? How should these expectations be managed? As you’ve been watching, how have they been managed? I’m not suggesting for a minute there management should be easy. In fact, this is a module on the nature of the crisis environment, I’ve already made the argument that they won’t be.
There is immense complexity here, and perhaps all of us have found ourselves conflicted a bit about which side of a particular issue was right and which was not. Perhaps you’ve found situations where you thought both sides were right. What do we do with that? This is why the crisis environment can be so challenging. Let’s take a moment to consider the perspective of your most important stakeholder, you. Let’s consider your perspective as one of the many stakeholders impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and let’s use your perspective as representative, not identical, but representative of how others might be processing this crisis.
This should give us a useful frame for appreciating the perspective of a single stakeholder caught in a very challenging situation, living in our increasingly complex world. I’ve suggested that a crisis situation calls for, in the eyes of at least some stakeholders, urgent, if not immediate, and continuous attention. What does cross your mind about your own needs and expectations for action? Have you been inspired or frustrated by the actions of federal or local government leaders? What did you see that helped you better understand the situation? Responsibility for the crisis? The impact that it’s had or will continue to have on you? What did you see that just made things worse, or more confusing, or less certain?
From all of these observations, what can you take away as lessons that inform your own approach to crisis leadership? What did you see that you want to make sure that you always do when leading a team through a crisis? What do you never want to do? Don’t miss the opportunity to learn from your experience. How about your observations of other community or business leaders? What have you seen from them that is worth building into your own crisis leadership toolkit? How about the behaviors or opinions of your own family members? Have you been inspired by how some of them had risen to the occasion? Or perhaps you’ve been stupefied by the way that they’ve processed or responded to the crisis?
All of these cases, there are lessons to be learned about how stake holders perceive their circumstances, and how we as high-stakes leaders might be able to more effectively address them. I would be very surprised if members of all of these groups haven’t done something that’s caught your attention during this pandemic, and while I can’t celebrate great moments of inspirational leadership or commiserate with you over our collective frustrations, I can tell you that many, if not all, of these experiences have been driven by the complex nature of the crisis environment. Crisis that are products of the VUCA environment in which we live and work can be, and quite often are, immensely volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
Now that you’ve gained quite a bit of experience living through one, wouldn’t you agree? One final note of the pandemic and how it illustrates what we’ve examined in this course, the experts described the crisis environment as one in which there is a great deal of uncertainty about the origin, the nature, and the potential consequences of the threat. While we may feel compelled at the point that Wu Han China as the source of the virus, did it actually matters so much at the peak of this crisis? Did it matter more than finding a solution or treating those who had contracted the virus?
On many occasions, I saw this question of origin as a distraction, anytime early in our response to this pandemic that we spent time arguing about the origin of the crisis was in fact a waste of time, a loss of focus on priorities, because it just didn’t matter. A much more important use of our limited resources was in support of those with the virus and those who were caring for them. High-stakes leadership requires prioritization. During this pandemic, we saw some opportunities for improvement in this area. I can’t think of a more effective illustration of the nature of the crisis environment than what we are experiencing and have experienced with COVID-19.
So as crisis leaders, in addition to caring for ourselves and our stakeholders, those who depend on us for support, how can we learn from these experiences? How can we take the insights we’ve drawn from this to become better high-stakes leaders ourselves? Let’s make sure that we don’t miss this very important opportunity.
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High Stakes Leadership: Leading in Times of Crisis

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