As someone who speaks, writes, and consults about strategy and leadership, the current Covid-19 catastrophe represents a perfect example of why strong leadership and building a winning strategy are paramount to success.
As the crisis was unfolding, the President downplayed the seriousness of the calamity. Now, as many of you know, our capacity to test people for the virus is still dramatically behind where it should be. There are massive shortages of respirators, ventilators, masks, and other essentials. There is no central plan to address these shortages.
Many governors, mayors, and other leaders are showing bold leadership and creativity enacting plans on state, county, and city levels. Certainly, different locations and situations require different approaches. But this decentralized approach also comes with its share of consequences. While states like Washington and California were essentially on lockdown and ordering no large gatherings of people, closing businesses, and more, Florida featured spring break beach parties and Louisiana had revelers on Bourbon Street. We are not mobilizing the country. The decisions being made are too chaotic. This is no way to manage a pandemic.
We are lacking both national leadership and a national strategy. There is no roadmap, so how can we know where we need to go? We need a clear and transparent national plan with requirements and guidelines that could be implemented primarily at the state and local level and have flexibility, when prudent, for different locales and situations.
Not having a national plan is costing us lives and crippling the economy. With a pandemic, acting quickly and decisively is critical. Without a lid on the virus, it spreads exponentially. In addition, a lack of a clear plan means that misinformation runs rampant and our citizens and business leaders lack confidence in our direction.
Imagine how much better we would be doing if we had a leader calmly stating:
“This is serious, but we have a plan for the health of our citizens and for financial stability. Here is what we are going to do. Here is what you need to do. We will learn and adjust together, and we will get through this together.”
So how do we get a national strategy?
In standard crisis management, the President would choose an experienced, well-regarded expert as the Corona Czar. That leader would then pick a small equally talented team to drive the overall endeavor with him/her. A modern example of this strategy is the team selected to help speed the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis: Hank Paulsen, Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner.
President Trump has put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the Covid-19 response but that is not working well. Clearly the Vice President is not equipped or empowered to succeed. He is not close to being fully in charge. There is no strategy. Instead, new ideas from the White House seem to get thrown out every day. We are winging it instead of planning it.
Likewise, I don’t think the CDC, the FDA, or other Federal agencies are able to lead. Unfortunately, in our hyper partisan political world, combined with President Trump’s leadership style, no federal agencies would author the best plan and then be empowered to execute it.
I think we should have four simultaneous efforts to create a national plan that builds trust and success:
1. Call on a respected, independent national medical leader to build the national Coronavirus medical recovery plan (CMRP). One idea is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They have experience dealing with pandemics and epidemics and have contacts worldwide in government and industry to work with the best and the brightest. They could create the crisp national action plan and work with the Administration to guide our efforts and build a national consensus to enact it.
2. While Congress has already enacted some financial legislation, similar to the Hank Paulsen, Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner trio of 2008, we should pick an organization or set of financial leaders to build a less reactive and more thought through Coronavirus financial relief plan (CFRP). A plan that responds to short-term needs but also longer-term concerns. It could be a nonpolitical think tank like Brookings or a smaller set of financial leaders.
3. If we can pull off #1 and #2, then we need to get support from the Administration and Congress to help enact and pay for the plans.
4. Finally, we also need to get backing and leadership from Vice President Biden and his team. He is the likely Democratic nominee and he and his team need to be behind a national plan if he wins in November. On that front, the good news is that Biden already outlined some ideas in a speech he recently made.
I will approach directly or via contacts the folks listed above. I also hope to fill out or improve the ideas in this proposal that are not fully formed. Anyone who has thoughts, connections or contacts they think can help please reply in the comments to this post or send me a note.
In Part II of this blog post I summarize the key elements the CMRP and CFRP would need to be successful.