Leadership lessons: COVID-19 Crisis – Recognising the real Leaders

A police officer monitors a popular shopping complex in Suva to ensure members of the public observe COVID-19 protocols. Picture: FT FILE

AS this issue goes to press, it would have been more than 40 days since Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama announced the first cases of suspected community transmission of COVID-19 from the border quarantine facilities on April 18.

Over the past 40-plus days, the country has been held in limbo, waiting with bated breath for the announcements from the Ministry of Health each day.

We are hoping that the number of positive COVID-19 cases would taper off and that we would be able to step out of our homes without a mask and socialise just like we were able to do not so long ago.

But with the number of cases rising each day, the reality is starting to sink in that these lockdowns, curfews and restrictions to essential businesses are likely to go on for a while.

And as it does, many of us are being forced again to navigate our way through the impact of COVID-19 on our lives and the lives of those we hold dear.

As a student of leadership and someone who has taken an avid interest in observing, learning and gleaning leadership insights from some of the world’s best leadership experts I know that two things happen during a crisis.

Leaders either show up for their people or are shown up by their people. And this crisis is doing exactly that here.

The response of those in positions of leadership has been the subject of much discussion in many spaces over the past few weeks. But the purpose of this article is to reflect on the real leaders who are showing up daily across the nation, finding ways to meet the needs of families and individuals dealing with the brunt of the impact of this crisis.

The ones who are sacrificing their comfort to provide for others at this time, who are reaching out to make sure their neighbours children are not going hungry and who are trying to find a way to provide much needed food rations to families.

The real leaders are the ones who are providing words of encouragement to those they come across each day, reminding them that “this too will pass”.

The real leaders are the ones who show up daily to serve customers at supermarkets with patience, and those who are keeping their restaurants open to still give people options.

The real leaders are the ones going out each day to fish and look for daily sustenance along the foreshore.

The real leaders are the ones who are baking, cooking, bartering, trading and doing whatever they can to stay focused and keep food on the table at this time.

The real leaders are the ones who are leading themselves out of this crisis by tilling the land available to them, knowing that this may be the only thing that will sustain their families in the days to come.

Keeping faith

The real leaders are the health care workers who sacrifice time with their families to sleep in hospitals so we can be safe.

These are the lab technicians, the specialists, the cleaners at the hospitals, who are all doing what they do daily to keep this outbreak under control.

The leaders are the ones who are able to remind those they are leading that we may not have all the answers right now but we will find a way out of this and that we must keep the faith.

The real leaders are the parents who are keeping it together for their children at home, home schooling, entertaining, handing out chores each day and making sure the children are safe.

The real leaders are those customer care agents for our mobile phone companies dealing with the hundreds who call and show up daily to collect their remittances or the funds provided by Government, sometimes overwhelmed but showing up daily to do their jobs.

The real leaders are those providing a refuge for women and children who are bearing the brunt of the frustration of male figures in their homes and who are no longer safe with their own families.

The real leaders are those of you confined to working from home and holding it together because you know that’s the best course of action right now.

As we go past the 40-day mark since April 18, when the announcement was first made, let’s flip this thing on its head.

Let’s recognise that we the people of this nation are the real leaders and the onus is on us to bring Fiji out of this COVID-19 crisis by being dealers of hope.

Let’s do the best we can to show up as best as we can each day for those we love and doing our best to keep each other safe, by following the advice from the Ministry of Health & Medical Services.

We have no control over those who are in so called “leadership” positions but we can control the way we respond to this situation by staying focused on the things that truly matter at this time.

If there is one thing that the COVID-19 crisis has revealed the world over, it’s that the institutions and structures in which we once had so much faith need to adapt or become irrelevant.

There is a need for change and that change starts within each individual.

Philosopher St Augustine of Hippo said this: “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are anger and courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain the same”.

So keep the faith Fiji — you matter.

Battling distractions during a crisis

A crisis is a distraction for a leader. It has the potential to pull a leader away from their life focus towards something else.

Whether it is the next announcement from the Ministry of Health & Medical Services, the endless conversations on social media, there are plenty of things seeking to pull a leader’s attention away from the issue at hand.

As such leaders experience three things.

Here are three excerpts from John C Maxwell’s “Teaching on Leading Through Crisis”:

  • mind wandering – thinking about what could happen instead of focusing on what is happening;
  • negative thinking – feeling as if everything that could go wrong is going wrong; and;
  • uncertain anxiety – fear of the unknown which implies others fears.

When leaders get distracted, they lose sight of reality, lose touch with hope and fall prey to anxiety, which in turn infects their people.

It is important for a leader to recognise that just because things are falling apart around you may not mean they are falling apart for you.

Leaders must discipline themselves to stay focused in times of crisis.

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