Leadership Matters, and Other Lessons from 2020
December 21, 2020
I recently listened to a Planet Money podcast on the Black Death in the 14th century (I know, hardly cheery fare). After sharing the scorched-earth impact of “one of the worst pandemics in human history,” the hosts focused on what rose “from the ashes of the Black Death: a new world that shook up feudal hierarchies, improved the lives of medieval Europeans, and completely transformed the economy.”
I am less confident we will experience a positive shift as seismic as that of the 1300s, but I do believe the tragedies of 2020 have brought some constructive outcomes. These include:
- The Fauci Effect. Applications to medical school are on the rise, up by a whopping 18%. This will help address the impending shortage of doctors as Baby Boomers in the medical profession retire. We must take it a step further, especially given the health disparities we have witnessed during COVID-19, and provide structures and support for students of color to pursue these types of degrees. Now, the National Institute of Health’s Dr. Fauci isn’t the only reason for the increase in those who are medical-school bound, but let’s give a shout out to an extraordinary human being who has been the voice of reason during this challenging year.
- Transparency rules. In our crisis work, we have long advocated clients share as much information as legally possible — with corresponding context, of course. There have been innumerable examples of obfuscation since news of this pandemic began to emerge, including how China, the country where the virus originated, failed to share necessary information in a timely fashion with nations across the globe. Whatever the issue, the lack of transparency undermines faith in critical institutions that are responsible for addressing the issue. To those who try to withhold information, just stop.
- Leadership matters. I took comfort in another podcast, this one from Jon Meacham titled “Hope, Through History.” Meacham highlights what leaders such as Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy and Prime Minister Churchill did during extraordinary crises, including the Great Depression and World War II. I confess, at times while listening, I cried, both because these stories were so inspirational — covering the role good leaders play in helping us navigate our darkest hours — but also because our nation has been bereft of similar giants during a year of death, job loss, and painful financial and personal upheaval.
- Innovation abounds. On a daily basis, we learn of scientific breakthroughs with COVID-19 vaccines, which are now being administered — a remarkable feat. Small victories occurred: Some colleges and universities were able to bring students back to campus with minimal COVID-19 contagion. And a Carnegie Mellon University professor believes, as a result of the rapid acceleration of online learning, we are “on the verge of witnessing a never-before-seen level of personalization in education.”
I am hopeful, without being Pollyannaish, that 2021 will be far different and far more positive than 2020. No, I don’t expect Congress to work in harmony and with efficiency; nor do I think the new Biden Administration will execute its policies flawlessly. But I do believe that by committing to transparency, courage and leadership in difficult times, and in partnership as Americans, we will end 2021 in a far different place than where we are now.