Much will be written about our government’s response to Corona-19, and its leadership will be found lacking. Initially, it ignored the threat posed by a potential pandemic, then prioritised herd-immunity, before flip-flopping, imposing a lockdown and failing to protect the nation’s most vulnerable.
In hindsight, we can see that lockdown should have occurred earlier, the airports shut and care home patients not readmitted from hospital without accurate testing. The government should have been on top of sourcing PPE, accelerated its testing programme and implemented a proper track and trace system.
But it didn’t, and the UK has one of the world’s highest death-rates.
This will, in time, be forgotten, as we restart our lives.
What won’t be forgotten, however, is how we were treated by our bosses at work.
Did you work from home, or were you put on furlough? Did you have to go to work and when you did, did you feel safe or exploited? Have you been sacked? Have you had to fire people? Was this a source of regret, or was it a way out of a staffing issue you had on the horizon anyway?
In most cases, only the company boss and its staff will know how the leader has performed at this time of crisis. Tough situations need careful but decisive handling; people’s health and family fortunes are at stake. A boss who has performed well will receive gratitude and loyalty in return; those who have not are in trouble.
Two companies I have been able to follow have behaved in different ways and I find both illuminating.
In one, the CEO closed the offices, put 90% of the staff on furlough and the remaining four worked from home. They took it in turns to phone all their employees, every week, ask them how they and their families were, and assured them their wages would be paid on time and that their jobs were safe. Very simple.
After three months of home-schooling, heavy drinking, or gardening, these employees all seem ready for the return to the office, which will be staggered and with more emphasis placed on working from home. They seem to feel secure, wanted and are ready to get the business back on its feet and thriving again; this is work that couldn’t be done by a neglected, resentful group of people.
In the second company, the CEO and three employees, continued to work from headquarters and relied on weekly emails to send out information to the 40 or so furloughed staff. What happened was predictable. The emails arrived and the furloughed staff contacted each other to discuss what they meant.
Within two weeks, people were looking for new jobs. The communication had not been clear enough, nor had it been personal enough. The best use of the working employees would have been to make regular phone calls rather than weekly ‘arse covering’ emails as they tried to prepare for all eventualities.
The employees gossiped, rumours spread about redundancies and the last thing you need when everyone gets back to work, is half your workforce hoping to be sacked.
Emotional intelligence is a much underrated leadership quality.
The reckonings about how business leaders have performed are being carried out around the world, in every shop, surgery and sports centre. Every boss criticising the government’s handling of the crisis should be aware a full autopsy is underway on his own performance.
As our goverment hid behind the scientists, so incompetent leaders hide behind the government, parroting their advice, rather than evaluating it and tailoring it to their own staff’s needs.
Lockdown and leaks
Yesterday, 23rd May, Boris Johnson made his final weekly media appearance and told us that, as of 04 July, social distancing will be reduced to 1m, the pubs will open and lockdown will essentially end. One problem was, we had known all this for over a month. What is the point in pretending you are following the science if you and the whole country already know exactly what you are going to do?
The government is so insecure, it leaks its plans, well in advance, to its favoured media outlets, who can apply a positive spin, and then test them out in the court of public opinion. Hedging your bets is no way to be a leader.
The government is now relying heavily on its new, untested track and trace system to isolate any further outbreaks. The problem is, that if someone feels they may have symptoms, they might be reluctant to self-isolate, when the rest of the world appears to be down the pub celebrating freedom.
One of the joys of lockdown for me, has been late-night radio. I’m often up at 2am and listen to radio talk shows through the night for company. I’ve tried plenty of stations and they are all pretty similar.
A host asks a question, along the lines of; “Do you feel the government is right to ease lockdown at this stage?”
To which the callers either say: ”I have not left the house in three months and I don’t intend going out till the end of next year at the earliest.” or; “We have got to get the economy up and running again and it is our duty to shop and to drink. Bring it on.”
It may sound repetitive, but a lot of the individual stories are fascinating and often heartbreaking. It is a great chance to listen in to humanity and the best hosts just let their often elderly, always sleep-deprived, listeners tell their stories. It’s actually quite lovely.
Last word goes to Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool manager:
“The problem I had, was that I was getting the news from Germany as well as from England. I had no idea of the pandemic situation in Italy or France, but I do know exactly how it is in England and Germany, and an alien looking at it from outside would think we came from two different planets.”