Evaluating COVID issues via USMC leadership principles

Last year, I wrote a couple things regarding US Marine Corps leadership principles.  One was on using it as a coach, the other in terms of presidents.  Really–people should check those out and get an understanding of the principles Marines consider critical for being a good leader across multiple contexts.

I decided to write some opinions regarding responses to the world pandemic based on USMC leadership principles–what seems to be right, what seems to be wrong.  The intention is not partisanship here–I find the actions of the extreme left and right reprehensible trying to score points while people are dying or getting sick and dealing with social distancing, etc.

  1. Seek self-improvement:  I don’t see this happening at all with the response.  Instead, hospitals are cutting pay for doctors and nurses (but not really administrators…funny, huh).  With the government response, you aren’t seeing coordination of efforts between state/federal levels.  This is more than the issue of federalism at work and a division of power.  There is not a coherent effort visible to improve capabilities nationwide.
  2. Be technically proficient: In terms of a vaccine, the judgment is still out.  The refusal to use WHO-originated tests initially in favor of what proved to be a flawed test developed within the US is a failure in this regard.  If you are going to refuse something–you better have a better version on hand.
  3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility:  It is not a partisan statement to say that the current administration has failed here with contradictory statements, blaming governors, then taking credit, telling governors to get their own supplies, then trying to seize what was ordered.  This is *absolutely* a fault of the current president and it isn’t happening with governors.  I personally disagree with certain governors opening states wide already, but they are taking responsibility for those actions.  In Ohio, the governor has done well–and when he’s made a mistake (overstepping his power to mandate mask-wearing), he has come out and acknowledged it.  Many governors, Republican and Democrat, are doing great jobs in this regard–I suspect several will become presidential candidates in the near future because of this.
  4. Make sound and timely decisions: The federal government dropped the ball here if accounts are correct–not just from US media reports, but what international ones say as well.  The US reacted far later than it should have.  Presidential comments about ‘miracle’ solutions are stunningly ignorant.  This is in contrast (again) with the action of multiple governors who seized the ball and took action quickly, almost always in consultation with specialists.  DeWine in Ohio and Cuomo in New York come to mind for me.  Some state legislatures have failed–thinking of Kansas and a partisan effort to hobble the governor without a full legislative vote.
  5. Know your people, look out for their welfare:  ‘Your people’ does not refer to those who vote for you.  This is about a president worrying about the entire nation and governors looking out for their entire state.  The president has been tone-deaf in this regard.  Governors have done much better.  Some pushing for a rapid end to quarantining have backtracked when more cases have appeared, others have started to speed up as numbers get better.  The most radical example by a governor is Maryland’s governor deploying the National Guard to protect tests/masks, etc from seizure by the federal government.
  6. Set the example: A failure at the national level here as the VP went to the Mayo Clinic and was the only person not wearing a mask.  The president has continued to shake hands and do almost everything health professionals have said not to.  Sen. Rand Paul thought he was infected and still socialized which forced multiple other senators into quarantine.  And in Illinois, it turns out the governor’s wife is enjoying time in Florida rather than sitting at home like almost everyone else.
  7. Keep people informed: Good and bad.  If you are going to permit your health officials to speak, you can’t contradict them immediately afterwards.  In terms of governors, Ohio’s and Kentucky’s governors do a great job–they answer as many questions as possible and, especially with Ohio, when DeWine doesn’t have an answer, he backs away from the stand and lets the scientists answer.
  8. Develop responsibility in your subordinates: The president has fired multiple officials with experience/training dealing with the health system and/or epidemiology.  It’s a failure.  In contrast, I think of some states where governors are permitting a flexible path forward with some areas remaining under more severe restrictions while others are permitted to open more readily–Indiana has chosen this route with Indy under restrictions longer than rural areas…and people are okay with that.  If workers are constantly having to worry about being terminated or undercut in a press conference, it impedes efficiency.  That’s not good leadership.
  9. Make sure things are understood, supervised, and accomplished: Given the arguments over statistics, treatment, possible complications other than death, this is a failure.  Whether this is completely the fault of political leadership–I don’t think it is, not wholly.  There’s too much garbage passed around/shared on social media that people accept as true without question.  In terms of ‘mission accomplished,’ that point is not here yet, but I tend to think of this as a failure of the president again–what exactly is the end goal, the benchmarks for getting there?  For a nation, that has to come from the top–the bully pulpit of the presidency.
  10. Train as a team:  This is a failure as well.  States are competing for supplies.  Governors are forced to work in small groups to coordinate reopening efforts rather than in conjunction with the federal government and its information.  At the state level, this isn’t a shining success either.  The US currently has fewer COVID-trackers nationwide than are employed in Osan, South Korea.  A continent-sized nation vs. one city.  Just as bad–and this is the hospital system at work, very little training or preparation was done in case of a pandemic.  For administrators, there’s no profit, no pay bonus to be found in being well-prepared for a once-a-decade or even a once-a-century event.
  11. Use your team in accordance with their abilities:  I think this is a universal success at the state level.  Whether you agree with a state’s decisions, almost every state’s decisions are being made in consultation with local officials, business organizations, and health officials.  In most instances, those people are highly-qualified for their positions.  That is not the same with the federal government.

So there you go…a quick look at COVID-response based on USMC leadership ideals.  Consider looking more closely into these ideals for leadership–apply them wherever you can, whether in your views of current events, the organization you work for, or how you teach a classroom and work to develop young people into tomorrow’s leaders.


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