David Amerland
Leadership in a time of crisis


Imagine, if you will, a squad of highly trained super-soldiers. They’re capable and determined. Confident in their own ability and aware of their mission. Now imagine what happens when that super-efficient, well-equipped and highly trained squad finds itself in a firefight with a poor leader. Someone who can’t make decisions, someone whose every decision is filtered through the way he will be perceived afterwards and not what is of vital importance to his charges.

In the beginning there will be some confusion. Then, because the schema of the squad is intact and the leader is still there, there will be hope that he will get over his inexperience and step up. Confusion and hope in a firefight get you casualties. Casualties cause all sorts of feelings. Emotional pain, internal conflict as soldiers battle with their own traditional expectations that the leader will lead, uncertainty as they now have to step up but how, when the leader is not incapacitated and nominally they’re still a squad under leadership with a duty to follow a leader’s orders.

Confusion like this, in the battlefield, gets people killed.

A position of leadership is key. It demands a particular awareness of the responsibility of your position and the duty that is attached to it. It requires you understand that everything you do is a signal. That trust is key to helping those you’re responsible for, understand what it is they need to do.

True leaders, in such circumstances, serve. Because no one has all the answers the best they can hope for it to act like the hinge around which those they lead can rally, sync and out true superpower: cooperation, can rise to the surface and help us become greater than the threat we face.

Because, in the past, that is how puny humans armed with rocks, stones and spears took down prey many times larger than themselves and way stronger and faster, we’ve evolved to cooperate. The fear we feel (and we all feel fear) can be harnessed to help us become more focused and more responsive but for that we need some guidance. Left to our own devices, alone and feeling helpless we can all too easily devolve into panic, and freeze.

In my battlefield analogy freezing in place spells certain doom. We’re at a crossroads in our history. Faced with a global crisis that is mostly of our own making. Pandemics are driven by human actions. Because no one is responsible for humans globally, yet, it is left to local despots and leaders to understand the threat and set the tone. This is the battle-ready squad analogy and in our current state consider that we haven’t been battle-ready to deal with a pandemic for some time.

This makes leadership even more important. Wasted time means wasted lives. Wasted time means squandered opportunities. Wasted time means losing control of the situation until it overwhelms us. A leader who doesn’t understand this is, in this case, a liability. An irrelevant factor that needs to be ignored so we can survive.

The moment the surviving members of the squad understand they can’t rely on their leader their decision-making processes changes. They take charge. They do what they’ve been trained to do. Their strength and chance to survive hinged upon their ability to operate as a unit.

In the UK, for example, the top failed to take COVID-19 seriously. It then allowed politics to trump the need to save lives and when it came to it tried to shift the blame.

In the USA the picture is much the same. Hope, on its own, is never a strategy.

So now we are all faced with the fact that some people we know and people we care for may die. Am I angry about this? You bet I am. So should you be. Yet, I am not wasting my anger right now. It’s more important we pull together, be there for each other. Lead by example because those who purport to lead us are failing.

Fact: we will come out of this. It’s important we do so better and stronger than before. We will have to learn better leadership ourselves so that we can function as a unit.

I started this year, promising you to be more open, more honest and cover difficult subjects because I feel the time to cover them is upon us. Like you, I didn’t expect things to become this difficult, so quickly. Nevertheless, here we are.

Our connectivity and our ability to share ideas, knowledge and experience is the only real protection we have. Do I feel a little uncomfortable being as open as this? Sure. Then again, each of you, deserves no less from me and we each deserve no less from each other.

The future may be uncertain, but we have each other’s back.

I know you’ve stocked up. So you have coffee and donuts and croissants and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are and stay safe.

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