How would leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic be different if we had a President who was actually interested in doing the job? Since it’s not a reality show?
A thoughtful President would pull their best people together for about three days and get an eight-page report (or something like that) on the most urgent problems to be solved. Then they would take it to the Cabinet and assign problems to departments or special task forces.
Then they would pick on a couple of items that would make the best PR case for reassuring the people, build a couple of public events to demonstrate the value of what’s being done, and create political capital for the parts of the program that might otherwise be unpopular.
Then they would appoint inspector-general type people to oversee all the new spending. (Because nothing builds confidence like exposing & prosecuting profiteers, and nothing undermines public support like open corruption.)
Then they would go on TV in a “town hall format” so they could be called out by people in real time, and at least on a symbolic level show their intention to be accountable.
Meanwhile they’d have staff in HHS and CDC producing some slick videos on practical topics like “How to help your employees work from home” and “Why wear a mask?” and “What we know about viral load” and so on. This stuff would be all over YouTube. The videos would be in English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Cantonese, and Mandarin at least. Everyone would be on the same page in terms of basic knowledge. The government would pay for public service announcements by celebrities known to all ethnicities and age groups, everyone from Dick Van Dyke to the Kardashians to Kehlani.
Meanwhile the President’s Chief of Staff would be constantly Zooming with state governors, big city mayors, constituency groups of all kinds, going “What do you need? How can you support the national effort?” Which would inform the agenda and (again) build political capital. They’d make it a point to include rural leaders and those from small towns, to indicate the problem is truly national. They’d make sure to lift up Republican office holders who are collaborating effectively, to indicate that serving your constituency is normal thing to do, not a partisan gimmick.
👀 Look, I’m just this one guy in Cleveland with a math degree.
I’m making this all up. Maybe that isn’t how this works.
But I’ve led and managed enough groups and community functions to know that you have to:
- Create a compelling idea for going forward;
- Explain why it matters;
- Figure out who can help;
- Motivate them to do so;
- Spread the political credit widely; and
- Continue to build the emotional and political capital that empowers people to do the hard parts gladly.
There is no substitute for diligence, courage, and generosity of spirit.
That’s the difference between the Presidency and a reality show.