Today’s mix of urgency, high stakes and uncertainty will continue as the norm even after the unprecedented situation relaxes. In this perplexing, earth-shattering situation, where people do not know what to do, leadership has the most important role to play
The current pandemic is another extreme rough spell that we need to get through. Most of the developed countries around the world are facing the same scourge as there is no other way out of this situation without a vaccine.
A study of Brac and Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) has revealed that 22.9 percent of people have been pushed below the poverty line during the pandemic. In Bangladesh, people have been fighting challenges to survive for long anyways. How to adapt to the uncertainties of a new reality is being debated now.
Every day we hear news about people losing their jobs, we see pictures of helpless people shedding tears because of poverty and hunger. We see people leaving the capital where they came with the dream of improving their life, as they have no money left to afford the living cost in the city. Economists, politicians, civil servants could not build firewalls against this crisis and instability it caused.
Unfortunately though, today's mix of urgency, high stakes and uncertainty will continue as the norm even after the unprecedented situation relaxes. In this perplexing earth-shattering situation, where people do not know what to do, leadership has the most spiritual role to play. How?
Historically, whenever people suffered; whenever they waited for a new change, a worthy leader always showed the way. The image of a leader can vary from person to person, but in general, we always picture a leader as a great man who understands the needs of the people and acts immediately, but in a contemplative manner.
Different situations require different actions from leaders. There is no concrete guideline on which a leader can act. Nowadays, in Bangladesh, televisions and newspapers are inundated with news of relief embezzlement, denial of treatment to patients, lack of medical equipment, low-quality kits and much more. These incidents indicate the lack of quality leadership and governance in the country.
Crisis leadership has two distinct phases. The first is the emergency phase when the leader's task is to stabilise the situation and buy time. The second phase is the adaptive phase, when he or she tackles the underlying causes of the crisis and builds the capacity to thrive in a new reality. The adaptive phase is especially tricky. People put enormous pressure on you to respond to their anxieties with authoritative certainty, even if doing so means overselling what he knows and discounting what he does not.
A leader's response to a crisis is much more than speeches. Yet the messaging may play a key role in obtaining the public's trust and co-operation. There is a popular English proverb that says, "Cometh the hour, cometh the man" - the idea that the right leaders will come to the forefront during times of crisis. For many leaders across the world, "the hour" has now come again with the Covid-19 outbreak threatening millions of lives across the globe.
In Bangladesh, a local government officer has shown a wonderful example of crisis management through an effective exercise on social media. As rapid knowledge production and dissemination are essential for outbreak prevention, the UNO of Khansama upazila in Dinajpur actively shared and updated all the government notices and announcement through his Facebook page. He has been sharing every early report of the outbreak from the union and village areas in a more specific way - like how many people tested for virus infection, what was the result and what precautions the local authority will take for the affected ones, who need sustenance.
The UNO has been running the mobile court in local village markets to ensure proper health protocol, spreading instructions on low mobility, rallying the public to pray from home. On Facebook, he publicly shared the personal number of BMA doctors so that the villagers can have emergency telemedicine services. Apart from sharing authentic data and creating awareness, he has been uploading detailed information on relief distribution from the governmental fund, non-governmental fund and the money raised for the local fund.
With this publicly shared information, the villagers can experience the transparency of the local authority and express their opinions. Additionally, a large number of people have been responding with likes and shares to spread the awareness programme. Through this activism on social media, the UNO intended to gain public trust, gather their feedback, premeditate public needs to line up who is next in line for help and by this, he wanted to build a bridge between the local public and the government. His example can be described as "contingency leadership" in crisis management.
As per the contingency leadership theory, there is no single leadership style applicable to all situations. Good leaders can assess the needs of their followers, take stock of the situation, and then adjust their behaviours accordingly. Leadership researchers White and Hodgson suggest that truly effective leadership is not just about the qualities of the leader, it is about striking the right balance between behaviours, needs, and context.
As the nature of this pandemic is relatively new and unknown to the general people, proper distribution of information and awareness is a crucial factor here. Before the invention of an effective vaccine, the only way to limit the spread of Covid-19 would be awareness and proper consciousness in the overall population. Another pivotal role of leadership in this particular situation would be the proper allocation of relief and helping the poor and destitute, for whom surviving is way more difficult than others.