What the Best Leaders Do

Throughout my career, I have spent a lot of time studying and teaching leadership. It’s a fascinating subject! The coronavirus has given me a chance to observe many leaders dealing with this invisible enemy.

I’ve found the very best leaders are good at four things:

They understand the current situation.

The coronavirus has disrupted every part of our lives!    

In assessing business situations, it is helpful to get feedback from multiple points of view, including customers, employees, managers, stockholders, suppliers, and external consultants.

Regarding the coronavirus, many experts have shared their insights regarding the spread of the virus, our capacity to deal it, as well as its impact on the economy and people’s lives.

It’s important to collect both the hard and soft data.

  • Hard data refers to the numbers. The numbers tell a story about what’s happening with sales, expenses, profits, and anything else that’s being measured. Both Drs. Birx and Fauci have illustrated the importance of studying the key metrics, trends, and the models being used to predict the future.
  • Soft data refers to the hard to measure things such as people’s hopes, dreams, fears, and frustrations.

Once collected, the data must be organized and analyzed. All of the pieces of the puzzle must be put together to have a coherent picture of today’s reality. But unlike hurricanes and tornadoes, the coronavirus is a long-term event that changes on a daily basis. In a crisis, leaders are required to create models and draw conclusions while operating with imperfect and incomplete data.

After your analysis, it’s useful to answer some basic questions such as:

  1. What are the immediate problems?
  2. What are the major themes related how people are feeling?
  3. What’s working well?
  4. What are our top three priorities?

The coronavirus has illustrated the importance for all leaders to be open and curious. Open to the brutal facts! Keep digging until you fully understand all aspects of this crisis.

They identify opportunities to improve.

Various local and national leaders have identified opportunities to improve the current situation.   

In general, opportunities to improve may involve minor tweaks (transactional changes) or major shifts (transformational changes).

The medical leaders have described many small changes we must make to stay safe and reduce the spread. Those include social distancing, washing hands, not touching your face, getting proper rest, etc. They have also taken steps to improve the diagnostic testing, increasing hospital capacity including beds, equipment, and staff, etc.

Perhaps a transformational change would involve discovering a vaccine. Other major opportunities may include a total redesign and overhaul of our healthcare delivery system.

In business, once you have identified numerous improvement opportunities, the next step is prioritizing. Identify the one-to-three big ideas that make the most sense to pursue.

They influence and inspire others to change.

The political and medical leaders have influenced and inspired many people (not all) to make the required changes.

The best leaders influence and inspire us with their words and actions.

  • Words—the best leaders create a message that is clear, compelling, and uplifting. They use simple examples, stories, questions, and visual aids. Their message generates feelings of hope and optimism.
  • Actions—Leaders set the example, and model the desired behavior. Illustrate the change you want others to make. For example, we have seen social distancing modeled at the daily news briefings.

Leaders deliver their message with passion and conviction. They want to win and believe they will win! The message must be factual and balanced between the dire facts and the hopefulness of the eventual solution.

In a crisis situation, it’s important to give frequent updates. People want to know the latest, relevant news. However, too much information is as bad as too little information. Keep it simple and remember: repetition of your key messages is necessary.

They take decisive action.

Leaders are decisive! 

Effective leaders are good at delegating, monitoring progress, and holding people accountable.

In the last few weeks, we have seen many decisive actions—temporary hospitals being assembled, hospital ships being put in place, businesses refocusing their production to medical supplies, etc. However, not all actions turn out exactly as planned. Leaders must be flexible and make adjustments as new obstacles appear.

Finally, the best leaders celebrate early successes and key accomplishments. The senior leadership team (Coronavirus Task Force) has done a great job recognizing all of the people who are directly and indirectly involved in fighting this virus.


The best leaders are very competent in these four areas.

  1. Understand the current situation—be open.
  2. Identify opportunities to improve—focus on a few.
  3. Influence and inspire others to change—use the right words and actions.
  4. Take decisive action—make it happen.

Finally, the best leaders are committed to learning and continuous improvement. After the curve is flattened, there needs to be many discussions about what was learned and what changes are needed to prepare for the next crisis.

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