Leadership, management and command in the time of the Coronavirus

Leadership, management and command in the time of the Coronavirus

Keith Grint | Leadership

Leadership, management and command in the time of the Coronavirus

AIPM Global Professor Keith Grint | Leadership


The Covid-19 pandemic that swept through the world in late 2019 and through 2020 provides a test not just for all societies and their leadership, but for leadership theory. In a world turned upside down, when many conventions are disposed of, it is clear that things will not return to the status quo ante any time soon, if ever. In the light of these challenges, this short paper suggests we might reconsider the way governments and their leaders act against the frame of societal problems, originally established by Rittell and Webber in 1973. I suggest that all three modes of decision-making (Leadership, management and command) are necessary because of the complex and complicated nature of the problem and conclude that while Command is appropriate for certain times and issues, it also poses long-term threats, especially if the context is ignored.

"Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People was written in 1882, after his previous play Ghosts had received poor reviews for its attack upon the hypocrisy of public morality.1 Ibsen wanted to respond by illustrating the way that telling the truth was both necessary, and often unpopular, and that direct democracy had its limitations.

Few people like to hear bad news, especially from their leaders in bad times, when we all seek solace and comfort. But telling people good news is easy, even (or especially) if it is not true; while telling people things they need to hear that they would rather not, is much more difficult, and therefore a more important test of leadership. In An Enemy of the People, the bad news is that the new public baths have been poisoned by the local tannery, just as the tourist season is starting (this, of course, is the frame for the 1975 Spielberg movie ‘Jaws’). In the play, the hero, Dr Stockmann fails to persuade his brother, the mayor, to close the baths and is then shouted down at a town meeting for trying to persuade the people that they have an unpopular but necessary duty to perform; they call him ‘the enemy of the people.’ This is the opposite of telling people lies that keep followers happy. And it might be no coincidence that one of the heroes of the UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is Larry Vaughn, the Mayor of Amity in Jaws, who wants to keep the beaches open, despite the evidence that a shark is devouring the swimmers one by one (Heritage, 2020)."

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Leadership, management and command in the time of the Coronavirus, Keith Grint, Leadership, 2020