Leadership in crisis: COVID-19 in Nigeria
Sir: The simplest definition of Leadership is the ability to lead others by influence. It is the capacity to influence, inspire, rally, direct, encourage, motivate, induce, move, mobilise, and activate others to pursue a common goal or purpose while maintaining commitment, momentum, confidence and courage.
[i] There are different kinds of leadership required for different times. Scholars have pointed out that the period of crisis requires charismatic leadership with a combination of intelligence, purpose, grace under pressure and consideration for followers.
[ii] Poor leadership can make a crisis situation worse, especially if impending threats are ignored, wrong decisions made or impression created in the mind of citizens that the leaders do not care. Leadership during crisis aims to minimise impact, save lives, protect property and infrastructure and restore public trust on government. This requires initiative and imagination, especially if the crisis is new like COVID-19.
Some scholars have provided a framework for leadership in times of crisis.[iii] According to the framework, a leader needs to focus on the following 10 issues during a crisis:
• Early recognition of the crisis and the threat it poses.
• Facilitating a collective understanding of the nature, characteristics, consequences, potential scope and effects of an evolving threat.
• Making a strategic decision in a timely manner after some form of due process.
• Orchestrating co-ordination among government agencies, private sector and citizens especially those affected by the crisis.
• Adopting a systems approach to the crisis looking at all its dimensions and connections.
• Provide authentic hope and confidence to the people.
• Provide mass communication in a timely manner. Ensure correct information at all times as one wrong information can jeopardise all the efforts.
• Render accountability. Explain what is being done and why. Provide the cost of action and services rendered.
• Learn as you implement. Learn during the crisis about what is working and after the crisis on what has worked for future purposes.
• Enhance resilience. Prepare individuals and organisations for resilience and the ability to absorb shocks, recover quickly, adapt and respond to the situation.
This framework can be applied to Covid-19 and other crises. Response to Covid-19 will be effective if the threat is recognised early and response put in place in terms of the good health system, testing and treatment and prevention and control measures. If a delay happens at the initial stage, the spread will go out of hand with disastrous consequences. If people do not understand the level of threat, they will respond negatively to prevention and control measures. If the strategic decision of lock down is not taken on time, the disease will overwhelm the health system especially if the system is weak. If there is no co-ordination and engagement with citizens, the government will roll out programmes with citizen opposition. If authentic hope and confidence is not given to people, some will not understand why they should make a sacrifice that a lock down requires. If the correct information is not provided in a way that it will get to all, rumour-mongering and fake news will thrive. If the account is not rendered periodically and transparently, support from citizens cannot be assured. In the Nigerian case, many citizens are already annoyed that corporate bodies, banks and wealthy individuals are donating money to the government.
If we do not learn quickly what works, we will not be able to replicate in other places. The isolation and treatment centre in Lagos has come out with great results. We must learn quickly why this is so and how it can be replicated in the other 35 states and FCT. Finally, we need to prepare individuals and organisations for resilience as we respond to the COVID-19 crisis and other crisis in the future.
By Otive Igbuzor
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