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April 15, 2020

Leadership in a Pandemic

Panel Discussion with President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., Admiral Bruce H. Lindsey, Ph.D., and moderator Michael Morell

Janine Davidson, Michael Morell, Bruce Lindsey on home screens virtual seminarOn Tuesday, April 14, President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., was joined by Vice Admiral Bruce H. Lindsey, Ph.D., and moderator Michael Morell, for a panel discussion about the governmental leadership, action and inaction that lead to the recent events on U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

The panel, presented by the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and MSU Denver, discussed essential leadership skills during times of crisis and outlined some of the qualities necessary to be a strong leader during high-stress times, followed by a robust question and answer session.

Essential leadership skills during times of crisis

1. Communication

Good communication leads to openly trusting relationships. These two qualities are inseparable and are essential to strong leadership.

Additionally, a strong leader takes their time to think about the most effective way to communicate with someone – is an email better, a phone call or should it be face-to-face? Each method offers opportunities for the person on the receiving end to misinterpret the message and find themselves dramatically misguided.

2. Relationships

Openly trusting relationships are built on good communication. These relationships are the foundation for a culture prepared to handle change.

3. Traditions build culture

Culture builds trust among people. Lines of communication provide the underlying structure behind a team's culture, defining accepted attitudes and behaviors when things are normal. When someone oversteps their role or behaves against the accepted tradition, the culture becomes confused and makes the team vulnerable to mistakes.

4. Pause, and take a breath

Make it three deep breaths. This is the oldest trick in the book. Stop, take three deep breaths, assess the situation and then respond. Responding too quickly – especially when you’re out of breath – makes it easy to make a mistake. Without the oxygen your brain needs, how can you think clearly in moments of stress?

5. Listen and trust others

Maintain humility. Someone always knows more than you do. Your own, singular, view will never be wide enough, and you need to count on the viewpoints of others – particularly the experts – to fill in your blind spots.

6. Planning is what counts, not the plan

Just like happiness is the journey and not the destination, planning keeps teams nimble enough to instinctively make good decisions when moments of change do happen. People might stumble in the plan’s execution because we’re human, but a team built on a culture of trust and clear communication can quickly adjust their approach to accomplish the team’s goals.

Additionally, effective planning must also include a review period that provides a safe space where everyone can provide feedback. This environment, President Davidson adds, should embrace a non-retribution mentality so that everyone can learn and improve through this review process.

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