I happened to be looking at the flight radar application on my mobile a couple of days ago, the same radar which indicates the positions of all airplanes with connected transponders all over the world. I noticed, with some degree of approval, the relative absence of flights over Africa, no flights landing or taking off in Italy except for cargo planes bringing in much needed supplies during the devastating corona virus outbreak in the country and many other countries showing very few flights at all. I then looked at England and the United States of America – thousands of flights going backwards and forwards in these countries, potentially carrying COVID-19 infected people, only to infect others at the same time in the plane and also at the destination. It just didn’t make any sense.

A title or a position can stand in the way of leadership effectiveness – a leader can become blinded to the impact and potential effectiveness of the role (much like the story: The Emperor’s Clothes). Leaders can become unable to see what others around them can see. This ‘scotoma’ or partial blinding prevents objective reasoning and stands in the way of coming to logical conclusions and subsequent effective decisions. John P Kotter noted: “In a world that is continually changing, where additional leadership is necessary, more individuals outside one’s chain of command take on added importance, as do intangibles, not on the organisation chart, but intangibles like corporate culture”. The spotlight cannot be on titles or party politics.

The above has become particularly evident in the varied responses by country leadership to the corona virus pandemic. Some leaders have responded decisively in an attempt to do the very best to protect their citizens, with lockdown measures put in place, undertaking community education, putting a ban on travel, increasing spending on health and using volunteers and the military to assist with door-to-door testing (e.g.: Cyril Ramaphosa from South Africa, and others). Some critics may say that some of these governments have taken a draconian approach – there are some examples where the military have not been compassionate to the population, but have unfortunately “wielded the sword” (the president of the Philippines with his order “to shoot where people are not obeying the regulations” is an example of this).

Some leaders seem to have absconded in the face of COVID-19, like the Thai King going into isolation in Europe, together with quite a few ‘companions’, while his country suffers.

Other leaders, however, have been more haphazard, adopting a “wait and see” approach – The UK Prime Minister, who himself is infected with the virus, has “urged” people to stay at home, with no lockdown enforced, but many thousands of citizens dead. Trump has fuelled anxiety with his sometimes false statements and has turned to business leaders of corporate USA and not scientists and other medical professionals to help him. These “titans of business”, however, can’t dig the US out of the hole that they find themselves in currently (The Guardian). In fact, President Trump, who initially believed the virus to be a hoax, just two years ago, disbanded a White House office dealing specifically with preparation for pandemics – a reporter asked about this incident and Trump, indicating his discomfort on this topic, replied: “Well, I just think it’s a nasty question. I don’t know anything about it”.

Conceptual complexity and levels of self-confidence make up a self-other orientation, which analyses the level of openness of the individual to input from others. Higher complexity than self-confidence means the leader is more likely to take input, show a concern for others and be successful at seeing the whole picture, dealing with situations on a case-by-case basis. The reverse situation (higher self-confidence) shows leaders who view the world as they wish to perceive it and use coercion to ensure their views become their follower’s views. Low in both is an individual who mirrors the group that elected them and tends to exhibit narcissistic tendencies.

Self-confidence scores are judged on the use of the words, ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘myself’, and ‘mine’. Scores are calculated by average percentage over the course of several speeches. Again, high self-confidence forms a filter with which the individual creates their world-view; low self-confidence turns the individual into a mouth for a cause. Contextual complexity (degree of differentiation) forecasts leaders either seeing multiple paths through situations (high) or absolutist terms (low) (Trait Theory and scoring).

COVID-19 is a pandemic problem that the world has to face and we have to do this together. We need leadership decisiveness during these times of tragedy – a decisiveness that does not take into consideration an upcoming election or party politics, but that demonstrates care, compassion and action. This is a selfless approach – a model of servanthood, which every country needs currently.

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