I have said it before: Bad leaders react, good leaders plan and great leaders think. And right now, we need thinking leaders like never before.
Because most of the problems we now face – as companies, as organizations, as countries and as a world – are not scientific problems, technical problems or medical problems. They are problems that require leadership to solve, and they have been made worse by bad leadership, or by a lack of leadership entirely.
The shameful events that occurred this week in Washington offer a powerful – and painful – example of the consequences of bad leadership, and it will take a lot of great leadership from politicians on all sides of the political aisle to undo the damage that the past four years have done to America’s democracy. That will require some very deep thinking indeed.
The present pandemic is another case in point.
There is no mystery about how to get COVID-19 under control. A number of countries have figured it out without too much difficulty.
Taiwan, for example, managed to go more than 250 days without a single locally-transmitted case, thanks to a prompt response by the country’s leaders who began screening arriving passengers from China in January, then rapidly rolled out a nationwide track-and-trace system and then began quarantining all people arriving from other countries. The nation of almost 24 million people has had only seven people die from the coronavirus, and never needed to shut down its economy or restrict public life in any significant way.
India may have the third-highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, but it has done a far better job of getting the pandemic under control than most wealthy nations. Just as it was poised to overtake Brazil and the United States as the epicenter of the outbreak, India’s leaders instituted a comprehensive mask mandate that coupled tough fines and rigorous enforcement with a massive public education campaign. While this did not end the pandemic, it did control it. As a result, India’s death rate is now 105 per 1 million citizens, compared to a staggering 955 per 1 million in the U.S. and 990 per 1 million in the U.K.
The list goes on and on: New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, South Korea. None of these countries is a dictatorship that has only controlled the coronavirus through draconian measures or suppressed the true scope of the pandemic within its borders. They are all democracies. What they have in common is effective leadership that took decisive action to address one of the most serious challenges to confront humanity in generations. The leaders of these countries recognized that they were going to have to think their way through this crisis, and they did.
What the U.S., U.K. and much of Europe have in common is ineffective leadership that reacted rather than planned – or didn’t do anything at all, until it was too late.
This grim reality offers further proof of my theorem that bad leaders react, good leaders plan and great leaders think.
Thinking leaders can lead their nations through the challenge posed by this pandemic. Thinking leaders can help their societies address long-deferred challenges such as institutional racism and global warming. And thinking leaders can ensure that their companies not only survive but thrive in 2021 by finding the opportunities that disruption always creates.
If you are already a thinking leader, then you know that no matter how great the challenges you face in the year ahead may be, there is way to navigate them. Take confidence from that knowledge and begin the hard work that needs to be done.
If you’re not a thinking leader, resolve to become one in 2021.
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