“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because, as has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others.” – Winston Churchill
Nothing like a global pandemic to reveal the courage and character of our leaders.
If you aspire to be the top leader of a business or any institution in the world, get out your journal right now and start taking some notes during the COVID-19 crisis. We are witnessing remarkably courageous leadership in an unprecedented crisis.
When I was young and idealistic, I thought all leadership decisions could and should be win-win decisions—where all parties benefit. And then I grew up and met crisis decision making, where virtually all of the important decisions are full of risk with potentially negative outcomes for many. In a crisis, it is the lose-lose decision that requires our greatest courage.
So what do I mean by a courageous leader in a crisis? A leader who chooses to proactively guide the organization to be brave, principled, and decisive—in the face of tough moral choices—with uncertain, high-risk outcomes.
In the last seven days, I have listened to senior leaders wrestling with incredibly difficult decisions.
Here are just a few examples of the daring decisions required in this crisis:
- Businesses: Do I furlough my treasured team members or risk bankruptcy eight weeks from now?
- Non-profits: Do I close a homeless shelter to slow disease spread when these people have no home?
- Parents: Do I go out to work to support my family, and risk giving them a potentially fatal illness?
- Governments: Do I require businesses to close to stop this disease, but cause millions of people to suffer the loss of their jobs?
- Healthcare: Who do I treat with the six respirators in my hospital, when I have thirty people who need them?
Can you picture yourself being responsible for such decisions? Can you see the remarkably difficult burden of being the one who must make the call? Can you recognize the courage required to navigate this crisis?
One shining example of courageous leadership in this crisis is the CEO of Delta Airlines, Ed Bastian. Overnight, airline travel has plummeted. He has faced rapid-fire decisions on how many planes to schedule, crews to furlough, costs to cut. No one knows how long the crisis will last. Without revenues, cash declines fast. Early on, he had no clarity of government or banking support. But courage is the trait he has exhibited very publicly—he has made swift, brave decisions, sharing his thinking and actions with everyone in the Delta family, employees and customers alike. With courage, principles, decisiveness, and incredible transparency, Mr. Bastian is guiding this airline through an unprecedented crisis. My prediction is that this airline will somehow emerge victorious because of the courage and character of this leader.
Our daring leaders in this crisis need our utmost respect and support. Now would be the time to shower these people with love by taking the following steps:
- Thank them for their selfless service.
- Celebrate their courageous actions in the face of adversity.
- Pray for them to stay healthy and clear-minded so that they may continue to lead.
- Speak well of these leaders at every opportunity.
Isn’t this what you would need to keep going if you were the leader in charge of these decisions? Let’s be the kind of people who love our leaders and celebrate them in a time like this. There could be no better test of our character.