People are scared.
Thousands are sick, and more and more are dying.
The nation’s economy is shrinking while unemployment rolls are expanding. Hospitals in parts of the country don’t have enough beds, tests or life-saving equipment; and, many of our medical professionals are serving without the protective clothing they need to treat this disease. Despite a rosy false-hope that we can get back to normal in two weeks, there is no end of the pandemic in sight; in fact, the numbers of the sick and dying are multiplying daily.
What should we expect of a leader in this time of crisis? I expect truthfulness, even when the truth is hurtful. I expect a leader facing complex and dangerous times to yield center stage to experts, and to initiate responses based on scientific/medical advice rather than politically palatable blather.
I expect such a leader to have the empathy, wisdom and courage to put personal gain behind public interest. Today’s crisis leader needs a clear understanding of the dangers we are facing, and the ability to honestly articulate the steps we need to take and the pain we will need to endure. I expect that she or he will concentrate on bringing the nation together.
Leaders for the moment we are now facing must see themselves first as servants of the people and be willing to sacrifice personal ambition for the common good. These leaders understand their weaknesses and surround themselves with people who have the knowledge and skills that they lack.
Of the elected leaders I have listened to in the last week there are two who meet all of my criteria: Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The President of the United States fails my test on every count. He has appeared in daily press conferences, but many of his statements have merely added to the ever-growing list of misstatements and falsehoods instead of bringing knowledge, clarity and hope.
If we have learned anything in the last few months it is that truth-telling by smart, wise, compassionate and courageous servant leaders is needed to unite the factions and interest groups that make up America’s body politic. There will be plenty of time for cross-party debates and the airing of political differences later. But this is a time for unity and a time to launch an era of common good.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.