Pandemics need leadership
By Jim Poling Sr.
Shortages are a serious worry during this coronavirus pandemic. Many places report not having enough medical equipment, hospital capacity, or even masks, gloves and gowns for doctors and nurses as the number of infections soar.
Such shortages allow fast-spreading viruses to overwhelm medical care facilities, allowing more people to die.
The greatest shortage in this crisis is political leadership. The world lacks the truly effective leadership that creates trust and inspires citizens to be strong, hopeful partners in overcoming the virus and its accompanying problems.
Some leaders have said the pandemic was unexpected, coming suddenly out of the blue. That is pure nonsense. Fifteen years ago, the SARS Commission investigating that terrifying outbreak warned the world it must ready itself for another.
Here’s what Spring of Fear, the Commission’s final report, said:
SARS “was a wake-up call and it holds the lessons we must learn, to protect ourselves against future similar outbreaks and against the global influenza pandemic predicted by so many scientists.”
Also, in late 2005 the book Killer Flu: The world on the brink of a pandemic, quoted various experts warning that another pandemic is overdue. (I was the author but this is not a sales pitch because the book is out of print.)
So here we are in the midst of a pandemic, predicted by so many experts over the years. And, no government, despite the warnings, was well prepared for it. All, Canada included, took too long to recognize the seriousness of the virus and to take precautions.
The lack of political leadership has been stunning.
Look south where self-proclaimed “wartime president” Donald Trump, a sociopath as shallow and murky as a mud puddle, initially called the virus a hoax and has endangered lives with his falsehoods and unwillingness to listen to anyone smarter than himself.
Now he tweets that physical distancing guidelines might be relaxed to help the economy. Early this week U.S. infections had reached 40,000 people.
Save the economy, let the folks die!
Look east to Britain where Prime Minister Boris Johnson, another egomaniac, initially followed a “herd immunity” policy that would allow hundreds of thousands to get sick and build an acquired immunity that eventually would leave the virus nowhere to grow.
At the start of this week Britain had roughly 6,000 confirmed cases, increasing by 600 to 1,000 a day. The number of deaths was approaching 400.
Canada had roughly 1,400 confirmed cases at the start of the week, and federal leadership has been sort of OK. At least our numbers are not out of control yet, but less talk and more direct action would make us all feel better.
One leadership surprise, at least to me, has been Ontario Premier Doug Ford. He has been calm, but straightforward and firm, taking direct action and calling out businesses and individuals ignoring social distancing warnings.
Good leadership is rooted in integrity, which means being fair, reliable and willing to listen to and accept other opinions. Leaders cannot have integrity, and the qualities that accompany it, unless they understand and admit their own limitations.
Excellent leaders build strong teams of people who have competencies to supplement the leader’s limitations.
Overall, the world lacks the strong, effective leadership needed to tackle burgeoning problems in these times of rapid change. The coronavirus will disappear eventually, only to be replaced by another new virus outbreak, and almost certainly an influenza pandemic.
Then there are the difficulties predicted to befall us because of pollution and climate change.
The world has proven time and again that it can overcome huge problems when it has excellent leadership – Churchillian type leadership.
We need to change how we seek out and choose potential excellent leaders. We have to stop selecting them through an outdated political party system. Toss aside political party loyalties and start choosing people who can achieve what the people really need, not what a party believes will win the next election.
In trench warfare it was the people in the trenches who won the battles, not the star-studded geniuses giving orders from afar.
So it will be with the coronavirus pandemic. The folks in the trenches – the doctors, nurses, medical technicians and other health-care workers – can win this war.
We are fortunate to have them and should never forget to thank them.