Spiritual thoughts on leading during the COVID-19 pandemic

Words from March 31, 2020:

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Photo Courtesy: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan M. Breeden

Is anyone else keeping a journal? I have been keeping one, lately. We know that this is a historic moment because it is an unprecedented moment. There are no best practices for a modern, global pandemic. The virus we are fighting is only a couple of months old and we know much less about it than we don’t know. We have models, forecasts, and predictions, but no experience, no comparison. It’s a scary time.

But, think about this: There is no better time in history for a pandemic like this to happen. We know more now medically than we have ever known before.

At the same time, in the eyes of history, how we combatted COVID-19 will look completely inadequate in a future where technological innovation accelerates exponentially. Perhaps even in a few short years, therapy and vaccine development can accelerate to be virtually instantaneous, so a global pandemic may never happen again.

It is that possibility that has Yuval Harari, anthropologist and author of the book Sapiens audaciously asks – What happens when we cure death?

But, we haven’t done that yet. So, here we are, at the beginning stages of a global pandemic that nobody can really say how it all ends and we go back to our regular lives. The subject of discussion on face time and skype in my home lately has been, “What are going to be the legacies of COVID-19? Will we ever shake hands again?”

Regardless of how our actions may look to Monday morning quarterbacks in the future, it is not Monday, it is Sunday, game day, and we are in leadership today. Even more so, health care leaders are called to serve in leadership for the vital institutions that are the hope and focus of a community, which has been asked to sacrifice, to keep us, hospitals, from being overwhelmed and to save lives.

This is the first time in a generation that Americans have been asked to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves. Some members of our community are forced to take that call in isolation.

History has called leaders to uncertain and open-ended moments like this before. The original transformational leader, Moses, was called by G-d in Exodus to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. However, Moses was not crazy about this idea. He gave g-d three objections:

1) Moses says: “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and free the Israelites from Egypt?”
2) “When I come to the Israelites and say to them ‘The G-d of your fathers has sent me to you’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?”
3) “What if they do not believe me and do not listen to me?”

In other words, Moses asks G-d:

1) Who am I to do this?
2) What do I know?
3) What if they don’t follow?

In times where we are called to a task that feels bigger than us, it is important that we come to it with humility. Moses didn’t say, “I alone can fix it”, he questioned his ability to meet the task, recognizing how big it was. We don’t have a lot of the answers, like to the biggest question, “How does this end?” and that is okay. We have to accept that we don’t and do the best we can given the circumstance.

In fact, humility, is one of the areas that I am reflecting on the most lately. As many of you know, my wife Sheryl is 9-months pregnant with our first child. As of today we are less than 2-weeks away from her due date. We’ve had these 9 months to prepare and have even developed a family strategy, a file repository on google drive, and have been reading books together for months to prepare.

Now, there is a lot of uncertainty in even a routine event due to a microscopic virus that we can’t see, that has brought the world to its knees. As my grandmother used to say, “Man plans and G-d laughs.”

One of the parts of this crisis that makes it especially hard to lead is that we may feel the same humility that Moses felt, while being called to be confident, clear, decisive, relaxed, and in-charge. It is a balance that I hope we can strike together. Unlike most of our community, we are not isolated. We come together as a team, as we have done this morning and I know that we will rise to this occasion and our organization will be stronger for it because we will have learned.

To conclude, I want to ask you to reflect for a moment on the following questions, perhaps in a journal entry:

If you look to a future in which you were to write an autobiography, would the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic be included? If it was included, would it be a short notation, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, or one of the volumes of a 3 volume set? What would you like it to say?