Covid-19: Leading through crisis

The armoured tanks are silent. The guns cannot shoot. The bombs cannot boom. The assault planes aren’t flying. The submarines are not sailing. The tomahawks are idle. The missiles have no target. Even terrorists seem to have taken a break. No President of one nation is railing against another. For once, everyone’s concern is self-preservation. The price of crude oil has taken a spiral southward tumble. People are stocking up on supplies. The streets are emptying. Global economy and social interactions are practically on a lockdown!

The common foe is not an array of UFO-riding galactic invaders that could be challenged with the vast array of our potent, battle-ready and battle-seeking arsenal of cutting-edge-technology weaponry. No, the world is currently fazed, and for an indeterminate period, by an ordinary virus, so minuscule that it is invisible to the ordinary eye. Yet, the world practically genuflects before this virulent enemy.


The Corona Virus Disease, or COVID 19 as rechristened by the World Health Organization to reflect the year of its emergence, has spread its vicious tentacles even to the high and lofty spaces of the globe without showing any signs of relenting. The World Health Organization eventually raised the status of the disease to a pandemic.

Starting its onslaught from the Wuhan Province in China sometime in late 2019, it has steadily made its advances into practically every country on the globe.

All kinds of conspiracy theories about the origin of the disease as well as the intent of the people said to have “invented” it, abound. But whether or not those theories have substance, one thing is clear. The whole world is under siege! For once, even the powerful cannot talk tough!

Situations like this call for strong, proactive, visible and upbeat leadership. Crisis is the litmus test of leadership character. It is the barometer that calibrates the best and the worst of leadership. Anyone can steer a boat in calm waters. It takes an accomplished expert to do so in stormy waters.

Leadership therefore finds its highest expression and manifestation in a crisis. In the middle of a crisis, true leaders don’t push others forward. They lead from the frontlines. A leader that abdicates direct responsibility in crisis is simply telling his followers that they don’t matter and that he is insulated from their concerns; in which case, he makes it very clear that he does not qualify to lead them. No matter what he asks others to do on his behalf, his followers want to see him, hear from him and be inspired by him. People want to see a leader who stands with them where they stand and not one who assumes that they know or who leaves them guessing!

Great leadership cannot afford any form of alienation in a crisis. It engages the followers. A true leader doesn’t do things for people in a crisis. He does things WITH them. Throwing palliatives at a crisis without appropriate engagement and buy-in from everyone involved makes mockery of such palliatives.

Delegated authority and communication are good and essential aspects of leadership. However, when people are in dire straits, there is a limit to which they want to listen to delegates. In a crisis, people look up to their leader for words that inspire hope, actions that demonstrate control over the situation and a presence that inspires confidence that this too shall pass! It is not because they have no confidence in those to whom authority may have been delegated to do things. It is because the leader must embody what he has delegated and show that he is actually on top of the situation. Speaking to reports gathered from delegates, he can reassure his followers on what HE has instructed and the specifics of his roadmap for getting them out of the logjam. Crisis provides the leader his greatest opportunity to actually lead from the heart. When followers see and connect with his heart, they can believe and have confidence in the measures and the people he has placed in charge of executing them! Without that presence and connection, every measure he may have put in place is seen at best as perfunctory and so, largely unappreciated. This is probably why some doctors in Nigeria can even think of going on strike at a time like this!

When the virus started making headlines with terrifying statistics of death tolls from China, the whole world justifiably went into panic mode. But not China. While it kept updating the world about statistics on the infection and the mortality figures, its leaders were assiduously working to remedy the situation. Before you could say “Corona virus”, two fully-equipped 1,000-bed hospitals sprang up in the Wuhan province. One of them was constructed and FULLY EQUIPPED in ten days! The news from China now is that infection figures have drastically gone down with the country having to pull down one of the hospitals because they don’t have enough new cases to justify its continued operation! News from China actually indicate that no new cases have been diagnosed in the last few days. Did you say “Amazing”? That is what leadership in crisis is all about.

From North America and Europe, we have had regular updates and direct engagement through communication by the leaders who have stood in the face of cameras, updating their people on what proactive steps are being taken to win the war over the virus. President Donald Trump of the USA, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, and several other leaders of nations have consistently addressed their people to keep them abreast of the situation and the efforts of the government to alleviate the situation.

Unfortunately, we in Nigeria have not been so fortunate to be addressed by our President on any national crisis since 2015! This is a puzzle and a riddle that defy cracking! Even when the two legislative chambers passed a resolution requiring that the President speak to the nation on this issue of global concern and importance, the response of the Presidency has been acerbic and indignant, with the President’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, pooh-poohing the resolution and accusing the legislature – where the President’s party has a comfortable majority – of playing politics with the matter. Unfortunately, that attitude has robbed the President of the opportunity of making this period one of his finest moments of his leadership and government.

One must say however, that there is some cheery news from Lagos, Ekiti and other states where the governors have personally addressed the people on the levels of preparedness and proactive measures in place for containing the spread of the virus and the provision of needed therapy for those infected. The National Centre for Disease Control has also been commendably responsive.

I hereby salute all the medical personnel who, in spite of limited resources and capacity and great personal risk, have risen up to the challenge of confronting this scourge and treating those afflicted by it. May God keep you safe and may posterity remember you for good.

We will overcome this. COVID 19 will, like Ebola, become history and we will still be here.

This too, shall pass!!!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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