Leading Through Covid: And Now Much More


To provide actionable insights and guidance for leading through public health emergencies, one a new invisible virus (COVID-19) and the other, an also deadly but too often invisible, social ‘virus’ called racism.

Where are we now?

As Susan Glasser wrote, we entered 2020 with a distinctive 1974 ‘feel’ which had to do with our impeachment hearings. Around March, we overlapped with 1918, when the last ferocious global pandemic hit the United States. The resulting economic shutdown to contain the virus brought memories and fears of 1929 to the fore. Then, starting on May 25, when a police officer murdered George Floyd, the protests, tear gas, and fires reminded us of 1968.

We are living through several profoundly difficult societal upheavals, but all at the same time. That…is different.

The current psychological climate includes: polarizing divisiveness, distrust, cynicism, continued health threats, economic upheaval, routine-less children, tired parents, social distance, soul-crushing loss, frustration, anguish, exhaustion, and pain.

Sources of hope: Strong voices, video evidence, broad coalitions, peaceful protests, renewed pressure and urgency; and finally, widely circulating, evidenced-based policy suggestions, and instances of fast local adoption.

Gaps remaining: Business movement beyond words of compassion and reiterated stands against racism. More leadership owning and driving change. Broader accountability. Urgency and importance sustained without daily protests in the streets.

In short:  Still you. Still now.

Thoughts on Some Key Decisions

  1. COVID-19 as a model for how you choose to respond to a national crisis around racial inequality? Are expressions of compassionate concern or organizational ‘stands’ against sickness sufficient to remedy a society restrained by injustice?
  2. As I write this, there are still some isolated instances of violence in our cities. Apart from continuing to ensure the safety of your people, will there be a change to your leadership agenda? If so, how are you naming ‘it’, the problem or wrong that might require more from you? Unequal Justice? Racism? Biased policing? Widespread and systemic devaluing of Black and Brown Americans? White silence and complicity? If we don’t name it, we can’t make and measure progress.
  3. Will you take on a ‘new’ role or accountability? Nothing changes if nothing changes. What new roles or responsibilities have you or will you assume or assign? What, if any, new ownership are you claiming? Note that if you opt to ‘reiterate’ who is responsible for ‘handling’ incidents (e.g., EAP resources, HR), you convey that nothing is different. The current crisis is not an incident to be handled but a system of bias to be dismantled.
  4. What new actions will you take? How are you figuring this out? Is there an important pivot to make? What, if anything, will be, should be, your change? How do you align with your most impacted stakeholders? What is success? What metrics will you track as closely and as regularly as financial metrics?
  5. Who has primary accountability? In hierarchical terms, of course the CEO. What might be the new accountability for individual leaders, for their teams, and for the organization? How often will progress be examined and improved?
  6. How specifically will you grow in understanding? Is it time for a ‘listening’ tour within your organization to ensure you are really hearing what is most important? What additional materials are available to expand your understanding of what’s been lost, what’s at stake, and what’s an evidenced-based path to ‘better’? As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” There are new and better resources for all of us to learn more and do better.

To lead is to make sense of a moment, of an opportunity and to then, drive change.

What are you learning that is different from what you thought before? What is your opportunity? What will be the change you drive?


Scroll to Top