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Consultant și analist de risc politic, CEO Smartlink, fost Policy Manager la Google Bruxelles

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Leadership in the time of the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic, #covid19 to be precise, is a new opportunity for Romanian leaders in politics and business to listen, say and do what is right (and quickly). Here are some ideas and suggestions that could guide them in the process of winning hearts and minds, inspiring hope and guiding us safely as a community in 2020 and beyond.  
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The value of honesty and communication. For public leaders, it is especially important to report the real situation, but also to leave room for hope and mobilization. In the current context, the biggest mistake would be to downplay the scale of the crisis or to overestimate the available resources. For instance, some ‘leaders’ should be more careful when making quick comparisons to other countries and praise too much the response of the Romanian authorities; the real danger is to become a laughing stock as the pandemic progresses. Yes, ministries and doctors and emergency workers are working round the clock, deserving our thanks and peaise. We are also lucky that we were not part of the “first wave”, like Italy was, but remembet also that our health system is less competitive: Romanians had an extraincentive to listen and stay home. Let’s do a decent expectatiins management or confidence will bust.

 

More than to-the-point communication. Yes, the politicians should be short and informative and focus their attention to making the best decisions. But the anxiety, uncertainty, and lack of control make people to yearn for more. That is why political leaders are expected to project not only resilience and decisiveness, but also empathy and human connection even in a context in which the social distancing is the buzzword. On Monday, we had the chance to contrast the speeches of President Iohannis and Macron and what I can say is that I hope for the former to carefully watch the latter’s public addres and engage effectively, in normal TV shows, when addressing the nation in the future. We no longer live in a normal Romania, so Romanians would for sure benefit from a change of the presidential tone and style. Prime Minister Orban can also learn from Singaporese PM Lee, he can win by doing so. Yes, we respect both you Iohannis and Orban, we are aware of the magnitude of the challenge and wish you both to succeed (it’s less about PNL and more about securing Romania), but we need you both also as leaders in chief, not just in managers in chief roles. Trust and polls will measure also empathy and engagement.

 

Show solidarity. It was refreshing to see that Romania kept open the possibility of exporting medicines and medical devices to Moldova, even if these exports were understandably banned. What I think we can do more is to give a hand to Italy and Spain. I know, we have our own problems, but who does not? It is time to think more and come up with a few good and clever ideas. This is important not only because millions of Romanians live in these two countries, but because the East (and unfortunately some in the wider West) might have a thing or two to say in an atmosphere of European disunity and finger-pointing, the EU as a whole is under attack. While Russia is in disinformation mode as usual, Chinese aid and expertise, and South Corean one, should be requested and accepted: they had to handle, and they did, very difficult situations. We need both European solidarity and a global outlook of close cooperation, or the health drama will be doubled by an economic one sooner than later. Doors we open now in the health emergency front will remain open on the political and business flank.

Step in and do your fair share. The days are so gloomy, that every positive story can gain attention, count, and lift the public mood. Business leaders can really give an example through the way they treat their employees – and offer them stability amid panic and concerns – and by how they will contribute to the national effort. Today’s best PR is to serve the common cause. So, Help the State. The public institutions have been caught – again – unprepared, but we will have time to learn the lessons of the crisis after the crisis. What the business community can do now is to help the state become as response and as efficient as possible. The scale of the challenge is enormous, the issue is so complex and multifaceted that no actor can singlehandedly deal with it. If you have an idea ane the way to implement it fast, do a one pager, send it to stakeholders, engage within the ecosystem and push for changes that save lives, jobs and growth. Covid19 is a marathon, beyond our March-May sprint, let’s keep some mental energy and brainstorm ideas for the summer / autumn aftermath post spike, doing the best that can be done along this long road.

Generosity matters. Do not let the crisis bring out the worst instincts. This new “normal” in the months to come, not just because of social distance, will alter our societal thinking and acting, there will be a reset in conventional wisdom. We are “at war”, like Macron said and Trump followed. A different kind of war, and we are fighting it at this scale globally for the first time. We need to stick together: social tension wiill increase, amid policy choices or (lack of apparent) options. The world will not end with this crisis, but it will look differently: how we travel, how we prepare, how we value family, friends and time, how we redefine work etc. Against all instincts to be risk-averse and follow the beaten paths, try to innovate and you can start by being kind, it will pay off. You may be profitable or lucky now but if we don’t win this crisis (of health and economy) now together, if you are not present in a historic 2020, you may not like what you find or don’t find in our societies and streets in 2021 and beyond.

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