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Kevin J. O'Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is a former New Jersey State Senator. (Photo: Kevin J. O'Toole.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: Leaders Lead

By Kevin O'Toole, March 17 2020 12:00 am

Leaders Lead.

Pandemic. Social Distancing. Self-quarantine. Don’t shake hands. Work from home. Take-out dining only. 8pm curfew.

These are trying and untested times.

It is during this time that we count on our leaders – political, community, spiritual, corporate and others to summon their inner leadership skills. We need to take a moment and let our leaders lead.

We need to be mindful that those in positions of consequence are making real-time decisions, based on ever changing information, and that while we may think we know it all – we don’t. This isn’t a time to try and nudge out others in an effort to secure headlines or take to your social media platforms to tell everyone how “imho” you’d tackle the crisis. This is the time when leaders are tested and the moment of truth to make crisp and well-reasoned decisions while understanding the gravity of every word, edict and action that is made.

The facts and figures of those infected and questions about elongating or flattening the curve are being bombarded on our society with unmitigated and unrelenting speed and force. The facts of yesterday become a blurred and distant memory as new facts and stories surface minute-by-minute. Leaders need to quickly and professionally plan, respond and react. They need to absorb new data, make forecasts and projections based on current information and be agile enough to make a sudden about face should the situation warrant.

While we all appreciate there is a human element to this pandemic, we need to realize that there are monetary consequences to every decision and action. Saying that every restaurant must be take-out only to limit social interaction also has a real impact on the lives of the busboy, short-order cook and bar back who is now sitting at home. Decisions like this aren’t made easily, and while not popular ones, these are decisions that leaders make.

A few thoughts for our elected and appointed leaders :

1) The moment is upon you; this crisis requires and demands that you seize control and act like a leader.

2)  Surround yourself with strong experienced professionals who provide a calm presence.

3)  Don’t be afraid to delegate more than you are accustomed to; trust the people who you have chosen on your team.

4)  Don’t let the moment catch you off guard — embrace the challenge; don’t melt under the bright light.

5)  Take decisive actions and don’t be afraid to make changes.

6)  Rely on experts in the field to give you guidance and advice.

7)  Seek advice from others who have weathered through a crisis.

8)  Have daily meetings or calls (brief and focused) with top staff to keep everyone on message and in the loop.

9) Have a daily message sent to the public or workforce

10) Make the rounds so that you are visible to front-line workers and for God’s sake have a positive demeanor. You’ll be surprised how much body language plays a role in times like this.

11) Don’t talk about the stock market while others are worrying about paying for food or their mortgage.

People are scared, nervous, overwhelmed right now and what they need to see is strength, hope, solutions – they need to see their leaders leading.

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