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Leaders direct and protect

We want to say up front that while this blog might appear to be political in nature, that’s not our intent. What we’re doing is using the living-learning lab of this global pandemic to shine a light on critical leadership responsibilities and choices. Lessons that we in leadership roles need to reflect on in our own work.

Governing bodies at their essence have two jobs to do. Direct and protect. They must provide direction to ensure they meet their mandates. And they must protect the entity and those they serve.

Given the seriousness of the world and what it’s facing, teams in boardrooms everywhere are having to consider how their decisions and behaviours are stacking up against their core purpose. And the pandemic is laying bare how our leaders are meeting (or not) these basic responsibilities.

The ultimate governing body is a country’s government, which at its highest level is responsible for protecting the sovereignty of the nation, and by extension, the citizens they serve. Leaders come with their own respective agendas (policy, personal, ideological), but ultimately their number one job is to protect the nation and its people.

So, when the going gets tough and the risks mount (this is the ‘protect’ piece), we must consider whether as leaders, we choose our core purpose as the priority when making decisions? Or do we risk our decisions becoming muddled, delayed and their impacts weakened as we try to weave in our agendas?

Let’s take a look at a few examples we’re likely all familiar with.

New Zealand

Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand is often held up as a shining example of leadership success. It’s fair to say the steps she and her government took early on in the pandemic to shut down their borders hard and fast, were focused on protecting their citizens. Period. But in doing so, their economy and health system were protected as well.

There was no muddling around with agendas here, they stuck to their core responsibilities and it paid off. That action, and not hesitating to revisit it again, along with an emphasis on testing and clear communications effectively brought them through both the first and second waves with minimal infections, deaths, and impacts compared to many other countries.


Prime Minister Igor Matovic of the small eastern European country of Slovakia and his government also took hard and fast measures early on. And they had the added challenge of having many people commuting daily to work in Austria and the Czech Republic. They successfully came through the first wave with the least infections and deaths of any European country.

And as Slovakia began to succumb to the second wave, it took what many consider to be extraordinary action by testing almost all of its six million citizens over the course of two weekends. What a feat of commitment, management, and implementation to stem the tide of the second wave, protecting its people and economy. Those who tested positive (1% of the population), were provided with government support and ordered to stay home in quarantine for two weeks. The rest who tested negative were given documentation stating they were clear and allowed to go about their lives in a relatively normal manner.

Were these approaches perfect? Likely not. Did they make some people angry and frustrated along the way? No doubt. But both these leaders remembered their core purpose and had the courage, clarity, and resolve to do what needed to be done to direct and protect.

North America

In contrast to New Zealand and Slovakia, we’ve seen numerous examples both in our own country and in the US where many levels of government appear to have allowed individual and party agendas, drive their pandemic response decision-making. And predictably, the results show these jurisdictions struggling to not be completely overwhelmed by the second wave.

Best practice says that during a crisis, a leader must have a singular goal in order to make the best possible decisions the majority of the time. It won’t guarantee perfection, but it will increase the probability of success.

The pandemic has created many lessons in leadership and successful implementation. Trying to cater to too many agendas and short-term ideologies rather than remembering who they are there to direct and protect above all else, has surely contributed to the situations North American leaders now find themselves in. And we as their citizens, are living that reality.

As we said at the beginning of this blog, our purpose is not to judge based on politics. But instead to look at the crux of governing and some real-time examples that just might stimulate some thinking around your own boardroom tables.

Companies that enjoy enduring success, have core values and a core purpose that remain fixed, while adapting their business strategies and practices to endlessly adapt to a changing world.

(Collins and Porras)


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