Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on November 30, 2020.
Adverse unintended consequences are the result of leaders refusing to face the brutal facts of reality. A case in point is the inaction by President Donald Trump and the governors of some states in the war against the Covid-19 pandemic. They didn’t set the right tone at the top and ignored the consequences of downplaying Covid-19. It probably cost Trump his reelection.
We are now facing another peak of infections. Covid-19 cases and deaths are surging upward with no signs of slowing. A graphic by ABC News based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that from July 1 to Nov. 18, confirmed Covid-19 hospitalizations rose from 841 to 75,100. During that same period of time, the number of hospitals reporting critical staff shortages rose from four to 1,054.
The graph below, compiled by John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, shows the number of confirmed new Covid-19 cases on a seven-day moving average basis as of this writing for the U.S. and nine other most effected countries.
In North Dakota, half the hospitals face critical staff shortages. Governor Doug Burgum has given approval to doctors and nurses who are Covid-19 positive to continue to work as long as they are not showing symptoms. These are the consequences of not facing the brutal facts of reality.
As of this writing, more than 13.3 million people have been infected with Covid-19 and 267,000 people have died. To put this into perspective, we will soon surpass the 292,000 combat fatalities during WWII.
Many governors and mayors, both Democrat and Republican, have recently renewed restrictions on large gatherings, businesses and schools in an effort to stem the spread of the disease, further adversely affecting the economy, employment and the education of our children. The impact on the economy is severe, especially for small businesses, many of which will not survive.
Trump has refused to use his powerful pulpit as the president to strongly encourage all people to wear masks in public and practice social distancing. So, why didn’t he? Each one of us has their own belief as to the reason.
A major responsibility of every leader is to keep their employees safe. At board of director meetings at many companies, the quarterly safety statistics are the first agenda item discussed, and the CEO is held accountable for safety performance. Some of the White House domestic staff have been infected by Covid-19. A number of Trump’s closest advisors have also contracted the disease. Trump’s job was to keep them safe. He did not. This would not be acceptable in corporate America.
Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, contracted Covid-19 after attending an election night event and is now recovering. Carson said, “The symptoms accelerated, and I became desperately ill. … [I am] hopeful that we can stop playing politics with medicine and instead combine our efforts and goodwill for the good of all people.” His words.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Trump called it a hoax and has downplayed its seriousness, periodically claiming that it would soon end. He has claimed it was no worse than the flu. Trump has consistently refused to listen to his scientific and infectious disease experts and publicly undermined them. He has hired people and taken advice from those who have little to no expertise in the area of infectious disease.
Trump has encouraged people to protest governors who have advocated wearing masks and social distancing. Trump, some Republican governors as well as a portion of the public have framed the issue as one of personal freedom – yet they don’t make this argument about laws requiring the use of seatbelts.
It is only very recently that some Republican governors of states facing overwhelmed hospitals have started to break with Trump and taken the advice of public health professionals.
Let’s give credit to Trump for granting funds to pharma companies to rapidly develop a vaccine and for fast-tracking their approval by the FDA. Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have reported that their vaccines have high efficacy. After FDA approval, the vaccines will be available to those at high risk of exposure starting as soon as late December.
Had we flattened the curve, we could have waited for a vaccine with much less illness and death. Trump didn’t set the right tone at the top and strongly encourage the nation to wear masks and to practice social distancing. He didn’t lead on the most important issue of his presidency.
Leaders, think about the unintended consequences of your actions and inactions. Face the brutal facts of reality sooner than later. Let facts and advice from your experts drive your decision making.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.