Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. What Is Facing Our Leaders

 

January 28, 2014, was Atlanta’s “snowpocalypse,” a day when snow and ice accumulated faster and worse than predicted. The entire metro area ground to a halt with cars abandoned on the freeway. It looked like a movie about the end of the world.

It took my wife an hour to drive the kids home from school two miles away. I was fortunate. I was at a meeting close to home. After it was canceled it “only” took 45 minutes to travel a mile. Many people never made it home, sleeping with friends, or worse, stuck in cars. It was a day that burned itself into the memory of the citizens of Atlanta.

By the next day, government leaders were being blamed for not shutting things down sooner. Schools were blamed for not closing that morning. Across the nation, Atlanta was the source of many jokes about how two inches of snow caused such turmoil.

The general consensus was clear: Our leaders did not act with enough caution.

The next winter, with the threat of heavy weather, no one was taking any chances this time. Schools were closed. Government offices shut down. The metro area was ready for the next great coming of snow and ice.

It rained all day.

Immediately, there was criticism of the schools and government for overreacting. All that productivity was needlessly lost. Again, Atlanta was subject to ridicule for not being able to manage the weather. The general consensus was clear: Our government leaders overreacted.

I was part of a decision-making team in 2014 and 2015 at the Cobb and Douglas Community Service Board. In 2014 I hesitated to recommend closing, and because of that, some of my own staff did not make it home on the night of the 28th. In 2015, I strongly advised we close our doors. As a result, we lost money and clients were delayed in getting their medications.

The problem with leadership in crisis is that the leaders never have enough information to make the best decisions possible. The facts are limited. None of us can predict the future, yet we rely on leaders to make choices that will change the future.

After the fact, it may be easy to see what the best course of action would have been. Even then, people may still second-guess a decision. Y2K was a real issue with computers. There were thousands of hours and millions of dollars spent to correct it. As a result, Y2K had a minimal effect when the year 2000 arrived. This led people to look back and wonder what the fuss was about, but without it, there would have been serious problems.

Right now, the world is going through a crisis. Some say this is a real pandemic posing a real threat, others say it is all panic and overblown. I have no idea where the actual truth is. What I do know is that leaders are faced with tremendous pressure to make decisions that will change the future.

If they had clear choices, which were all good with no negative side effects, they would take them. That is not what is before us. What is before us, as is usually the case, are all paths come with pain. Which pain do we choose: 20 million jobs in jeopardy or a million dead from a novel virus, is the sort of weight on the shoulders of our leaders right now. All the facts on this virus are not known and cannot be known until it has run its course.

Leaders have to act, based on what is known now, and make their best guess.

Some will be condemned for guessing wrong. Others may well be praised for guessing right. There will be partisan influences on how we all choose to view it.

What I hope is that we look back with grace and not with smug wisdom.

With talking about what is facing our leaders, next time we will look at what to do as a leader in these sorts of situations.

Bryan G. Stephens is a former executive on a mission to transform the workplace. He is the founder and CEO of TalkForward, a consulting and training company, utilizing Bryan’s clinical and management expertise to develop managers and teams in a corporate environment. As a licensed therapist with strong understanding of developing human potential, he is dedicated to the development of Human Capital to meet the needs of leaders, managers, and employees in the 21st Century workplace. 

Bryan has an Executive MBA from Kennesaw State University, Coles School of Business, and both a Master’s and Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.

This was originally posted at TalkForward.

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  1. RightAngles Member

    I see what you mean!

    • #1
    • March 23, 2020, at 3:58 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Instugator Thatcher
    InstugatorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bryan G. Stephens: In 2014 I hesitated to recommend closing, and because of that, some of my own staff did not make it home on the night of the 28th.

    This is an interesting thing, because it illustrates another principle of decision making.

    Decisions have an expiration time.

    Failure to make a decision in the appropriate time is itself a decision, and it can’t be revisited, because for some decisions there is no do-over.

     

     

    • #2
    • March 23, 2020, at 4:45 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  3. RightAngles Member

    Another thing to take away from this is that no matter what a leader decides to do, there will always be a way to say it was wrong.

    -edit typo-

    • #3
    • March 23, 2020, at 4:49 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  4. Linguaphile Member

    Thank you for this! I have so often felt exactly as you stated–it is almost impossible for leaders to act in a way that will satisfy everyone, or will be perfect in every instance. They are not omniscient! I’ always surprised at how harshly people in leadership are judged while going through these things. There is a lot of factors that we as the general public do not have so, as you said, look at the situation with some grace.

     

    • #4
    • March 23, 2020, at 5:01 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVeyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A very good post, Bryan. This is the kind of situation where nobody has an instruction manual, and even if the ultimate outcome is mostly successful, mistakes will be made. The World War II Manhattan project wasn’t economical; vast amounts of money was spent coming up with competing methods of refining uranium. In retrospect, a fair amount of that money was objectively wasted because no one had done it before. We should be able to accept that without claiming that our predecessors were spendthrift fools. 

    Because if we’d saved the money, and Germany achieved an atomic bomb in 1943, we could have lost everything. 

    • #5
    • March 23, 2020, at 6:10 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  6. Chuck Thatcher

    “Pray that God will give your leaders wisdom. They are in a lose-lose situation right now. For them, there is no win. If they wait until the virus spreads, they will be characterized for dragging their feet and minimizing the threat: ‘Where were you when we needed you?’ And if they try to be proactive and get out in front of the virus before it kills a bunch of people, they will be criticized for acting prematurely: ‘What are you worried about? Nobody’s died yet!’ And even if they actually succeed in preventing the spread of the virus, instead of being grateful some people will simply say, ‘See, this was foolish. After all, nothing happened.’ They cannot win. They cannot win because we live in a day when everyone is an expert, and everything is politicized. Let’s not be a part of that problem. There’s enough of that going on. Don’t complain, but pray.”
    Justin Dillehay, Sermon on Psalm 90 & 91, March 15, 2020

    • #6
    • March 23, 2020, at 6:54 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. StephensJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks everyone! Great feedback indeed. Not sure I wrote this one. The Muse had me strong. 

    • #7
    • March 23, 2020, at 7:33 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  8. Danny Alexander Inactive

    If the virus — as I strongly suspect — emerged, however accidentally, from the virology lab in Wuhan, all bets are off.

    In China at present, all evidence points to continued ravages at least in Wuhan (and elsewhere in Hubei province?), notwithstanding the Xi regime’s fiat that victory be proclaimed. (See reporting in The Daily Caller as well as Helen Raleigh’s latest column at The Federalist.)

    Prior to said fiat, the CCP/PLA dictatorship engaged in a containment campaign that effectively trashed wide-ranging segments of the PRC economy, and unhesitatingly condemned a significant number of Wuhan/Hubei denizens to their premature demise through drastic lockdown of the populace there (and elsewhere in the country for a period of time). Personally, I find it next to impossible to accept that this is anywhere remotely a garden-variety SOP response to a naturally occurring virus, however strong.

    I made the abrupt decision in mid-February to relocate from Tokyo to Boston — notwithstanding the valuable 2.5 years of validity I had left on my Japanese work visa — with this concern top of mind. Of course, my hopes of finding refuge in Fortress America proved misplaced — so I’m left with praying that my assessment of the nature of the virus also proves spectacularly wrong.

    • #8
    • March 23, 2020, at 9:31 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. Al French of Damascus Moderator

    Bryan G. Stephens: What I hope is that we look back with grace and not with smug wisdom.

    Always good advice. Thanks, Bryan.

    • #9
    • March 23, 2020, at 9:49 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  10. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    For reference, Dr. Landon has been following and preparing for this outbreak since the early days, as there were colleagues of hers on site near Wuhan with the unfiltered story. Please do not judge her for being on the same stage as Illinois politicians, she does not work for the state. There are no second chances. Every second we shelter in place and buy time for the medical system, we further damage the economy. There are no perfect solutions, only trade-offs.

    Pray for our leaders. Donald Trump right now has to make decisions with limited knowledge, knowing people will damn him regardless of what he does, and the fate of millions is on his shoulders.

    • #10
    • March 24, 2020, at 2:33 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  11. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Danny Alexander (View Comment):
    I made the abrupt decision in mid-February to relocate from Tokyo to Boston — notwithstanding the valuable 2.5 years of validity I had left on my Japanese work visa — with this concern top of mind. Of course, my hopes of finding refuge in Fortress America proved misplaced — so I’m left with praying that my assessment of the nature of the virus also proves spectacularly wrong.

    Eh, you can’t judge Fortress America from Boston. In my experience (grew up in Maine, have customers across the northeast), you moved to one of the cesspools of America. Politically, socially, economically, and religiously, it is a terribly hostile place for ordinary Americans. Along with the rest of the Acela Corridor. If you go purely by economic stats, those are wonderful places, but it really is only true for the elite.

    I suggest you Get Out.

    • #11
    • March 24, 2020, at 4:44 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. Boss Mongo Member

    Bryan G. Stephens: I have no idea where the actual truth is, and I cannot make a reasonable estimate because we have a garbage media. What I do know is that leaders are faced with tremendous pressure to make decisions that will change the future.

    Bryan, didn’t FIFY, but punched it up a little.

    • #12
    • March 24, 2020, at 4:58 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  13. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. StephensJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens: I have no idea where the actual truth is, and I cannot make a reasonable estimate because we have a garbage media. What I do know is that leaders are faced with tremendous pressure to make decisions that will change the future.

    Bryan, didn’t FIFY, but punched it up a little.

    Thanks

    • #13
    • March 24, 2020, at 9:42 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  14. HerrForce1 Coolidge
    HerrForce1Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bryan G. Stephens: The problem with leadership in crisis is that the leaders never have enough information to make the best decisions possible. The facts are limited. None of us can predict the future, yet we rely on leaders to make choices that will change the future.

    “Intelligence gaps” are what life is all about. Military operations, medical choices, your daily life, you name it. Thank you Mr. Stephens for laying it out so lucidly to hopefully promote some empathy for our leaders. 

    • #14
    • March 24, 2020, at 10:11 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  15. Roderic Reagan

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    By the next day, government leaders were being blamed for not shutting things down sooner. Schools were blamed for not closing that morning. Across the nation, Atlanta was the source of many jokes about how two inches of snow caused such turmoil.

    The general consensus was clear: Our leaders did not act with enough caution.

    When Trump closed the border to China he was criticized for being xenophobic, racist, and premature. Now that the pandemic is rolling on in the US he is being criticized for not acting soon enough. They’re not waiting until it’s over to second guess.

     

    • #15
    • March 24, 2020, at 11:41 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  16. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. StephensJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    HerrForce1 (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens: The problem with leadership in crisis is that the leaders never have enough information to make the best decisions possible. The facts are limited. None of us can predict the future, yet we rely on leaders to make choices that will change the future.

    “Intelligence gaps” are what life is all about. Military operations, medical choices, your daily life, you name it. Thank you Mr. Stephens for laying it out so lucidly to hopefully promote some empathy for our leaders.

    The Fog of War indeed!

     

    Roderic (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    By the next day, government leaders were being blamed for not shutting things down sooner. Schools were blamed for not closing that morning. Across the nation, Atlanta was the source of many jokes about how two inches of snow caused such turmoil.

    The general consensus was clear: Our leaders did not act with enough caution.

    When Trump closed the border to China he was criticized for being xenophobic, racist, and premature. Now that the pandemic is rolling on in the US he is being criticized for not acting soon enough. They’re not waiting until it’s over to second guess.

     

    Alas, all too true. 

    • #16
    • March 24, 2020, at 12:12 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Ontheleftcoast Member

     

    Just because. Hat tip Tamara Keel.

    • #17
    • March 24, 2020, at 7:42 PM PDT
    • 2 likes