A Teachable Moment in Trump’s Testing Positive for COVID-19
Overnight the world learned that President Trump and the First Lady both tested positive for COVID-19. I wish them a full recovery.
But our challenge isn’t that Trump has COVID-19; it’s that the nation does. And it didn’t have to be this way.
A Teachable Moment: Patterns of Crisis
We are in a very teachable moment.
Crises follow predictable patterns. One is that most harm in a crisis is self-inflicted. Sometimes the initial crisis event itself is self-inflicted. But even when it isn’t, most of the loss of trust, confidence, and competitive position is self-inflicted because of an ineffective response.
A foundational principle of crisis response is to understand the scope and severity of a crisis and the risks it represents, and to respond based on those risks. Donald Trump never did.
On January 28 Trump’s national security advisor told him that COVID-19 would be the single largest national security threat in his presidency.
On February 7 Trump admitted to Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward that COVID-19 is spread in the air and is more deadly than the flu.
Three weeks ago Dr. Irwin Redlener, head of Columbia University’s Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative, estimated that if the nation had gone to national masking and lock-down one week earlier, with a constant masking and social distancing policy, 150,000 of the 200,000 fatalities would have been avoided.
Ten Crisis Missteps
In two of my books, Reputation Management and The Agony of Decision, I describe ten predictable missteps in a crisis:
- Ignore the problem. Trump did.
- Deny the significance of the problem. Trump did.
- Compartmentalize the problem or solution. Trump did.
- Tell misleading half truths. Trump did.
- Lie. Trump did.
- Tell only part of what you did. Trump did.
- Blame others for your failures. Trump did.
- Over-confess. On this one, Trump did not.
- Panic, leading to bad decision-making. Trump did.
- Shoot the messenger when you receive bad news. Trump did.
Trump has committed nine of the ten missteps when it comes to COVID-19.
The Human Consequences of the Missteps
Unlike other crises, this has had significant human consequence. At least 75 percent of the cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. would not have happened. And 150,000 people, according to Dr. Redlener, would still be alive.Leaders are judged based on how they deal with their most significant challenges. Trump failed this leadership test. Given the magnitude of the failure of crisis response after Trump was fully aware of the risks, this may be the single worst failure of leadership in American history.
I have previously published that I believe Trump’s handling of COVID-19 to be the single worst handled crisis, and largest leadership failure, in American history.
Again, I wish both the President and the First Lady a full recovery. But perhaps now we can move to a national masking, social distancing, contract tracing, and testing policy.
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