Needed: leadership that hits Covid nail on the head
by Richard Straub

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It is high time to rethink our parameters for dealing with the pandemic. What we need are leaders with judgment and common sense.

We are currently seeing an alarming new twist in the Covid narrative: while at the start of the pandemic the aim was to prevent our healthcare systems from collapsing, the goal now seems to be to stop anyone at all becoming ill. But the situation today is in no way comparable to that of spring. It is true that in much of Europe infections are again on the rise. Yet on the whole rising case numbers are having little effect on hospital bed occupancy or even on intensive care units. We are in a new phase of the pandemic, not a repeat of the first one. For now the collapse of our health systems is not imminent, nor, according to experts, is one anticipated.

Drucker Forum 2020

The reasons for this are multifactorial: on the one hand, a growing proportion of those affected in the new wave consists of the young, who mainly present with mild symptoms; on the other, better therapies are becoming available to treat more severe cases. Last but not least, it is being suggested in some quarters that as the virus becomes more infectious, it is also weakening in potency.   

Meanwhile, the collapse that we are actually suffering is that of the economy. According to OECD forecasts, Europe can expect to feel the greatest blow to its prosperity since the second world war, in which the first wave with its lockdown is set to leave much deeper traces (France and the UK more than -11%, Germany -6.8%, Austria -6.2%) than the second, which in turn may be morphing into something more like a “permanent wave”. This means that even if the health crisis were to worsen again, it would have to be weighed against the social and economic consequences. For one thing has become clear: even if a vaccine is forthcoming, it will not magic the problems away at a stroke. 

What we need from leadership today is clear thinking, sound judgment and common sense. That means being able to take the best insights from different kinds of expertise and blend them into decisions that are balanced and above all pragmatic, as Roger Martin, Julia Kirby and I outline in our HBR article on the approaches leaders should bring to different types of problem. Those who focus on counting infections while turning a blind eye to actual hospital admissions and deaths, let alone the enormous collateral damage currently being inflicted on the economy and society as a whole, are committing errors of thinking that do society a grave disservice. “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. The authorship of this quote is disputed, but no one can doubt that in the current situation it hits the nail squarely on the head. It is high time to bring a different set of tools to the task of dealing with the pandemic.

About the Author:
Richard Straub is Founder and President of the Global Peter Drucker Forum. The 2020 Forum will take place on October 29 & 30 in the Vienna Hofburg Palace with the general theme: Leadership Everywhere – A Fresh Perspective on Management.

This article is one in the “shape the debate” series relating to the fully digital 12th Global Peter Drucker Forum, under the theme “Leadership Everywhere” on October 28, 29 & 30, 2020.

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