RL Practice of the Month

Are You Equipped to Make Hard Choices During the Ongoing Covid-19 Crisis?

Are You Equipped to Make Hard Choices During the Ongoing Covid-19 Crisis?


The COVID – 19 virus continues to rage in many areas of our country (and the world) but seems to have peaked in other areas. Communities everywhere are at a critical crossroad as they consider how to balance the intense desire to “open up” with the need to “stay safe.” Poorly differentiated thinkers generally believe nearly all choices are a matter of “either/or,” while the better differentiated recognize that there are usually considerably more than 50 shades of grey when it comes to decisions about highly complex realities like the management of a pandemic. Given how high the stakes are, it is not surprising that leaders today are feeling elevated levels of stress—precisely in situations that call for them to be more thoughtful and less anxious in arriving at important decisions.


Resilient leaders are better equipped to make hard choices because they are guided by clear principles and values they have arrived at thoughtfully and lived out over many years. Their decisions are more likely to be on target because they are based on objective facts and solid data. But resilient leaders’ decisions are not based on facts or objective data alone. Because they are attuned to the dynamics of the emotional system(s) that they are a part of, such leaders are able to make moves that lower anxiety in the system, rather than raise it. Their less anxious presence can be as contagious as any virus, but with healthy benefits rather than toxic effects.

In the case of COVID -19, resilient leaders are able to make judgements that respect a variety of competing priorities, rather than defaulting to an anxious focus on one or another of the choices before them. Taking action either to “open up” or to “stay safe” involves multi-faceted, complex pathways and should never be presented as a simplistic, “either-or” choice.  The ability to hold two seemingly opposite polarities in a dynamic tension and embrace a “both/and” solution is a leadership competency that is as rare as it is important, particularly in highly anxious times such as that provoked by the current global pandemic.

Resilient leaders help their followers to move beyond dichotomous, adversarial thinking that poses choices in partisan terms. “Yes,” we need to “open up;” and “Yes,” we need to “stay safe.” Both are essential for success, and the more a leader can lower anxiety within the system, the more likely will members of the system promote “win-win” as they come together to act with urgency in more thoughtful, effective ways.

Try It:

In the weeks ahead, identify the principles and core values that you wish to guide you in the choices you will make with your team/organization/family/community in order to reduce anxiety and promote thoughtfulness. Here is a sample of the personal principles identified recently by a colleague and shared with others in their organization as touchstones that guide his decision-making on a daily basis:

  • Express gratitude daily.
  • Play the long game: Show how we can come out of this pandemic wiser, stronger.
  • Be creative—both/and thinking, not either/or thinking.
  • Connect with others every day in a way that lowers their anxiety.
  • Find ways to support those who are struggling.