Demonstrating Leadership In A Pandemic

By: Dr. Chuck Williams

When Charles Dickens penned, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” in his novel A Tale of Two Cities he was speaking of the differences between London and Paris during the time of the French Revolution but his words have perhaps never felt more applicable to our modern ears than now.

In the midst of illness, death, job loss, economic collapse, and weeks of quarantine we also see incredible acts of service, kindness, and selflessness.  This reminds us of both the fragility of life and the great potential of humanity to rally together against a common foe.

When national tragedies occur we rightly look to our national leadership for comfort, courage and guidance.  In reality, however, the leadership each of us shows in our home, workplace, school, and church can have a much greater impact on the people around us than any political leader could muster.

As a primary care physician in Johnston County I have already seen a great deal of compassion, unity and resolve as our own local health system confronts the coming wave of illness from COVID19.

What does leadership look like in the face of a pandemic? Here are five ways each of us can lead in our local community:

  1. Find opportunities to serve.  Donations to food pantries are especially critical at a time like this. Hoarding by some can exacerbate food scarcity for others. Donate food, money and volunteer hours to your local food bank, food pantries, and churches.

Check in on your elderly neighbors. We need these citizens who are at particularly high risk isolated from the general population to avoid exposing them to the COVID virus. See if you can assist them with shopping so they don’t have to leave their homes. Make an effort to call and chat with them to help with the social isolation that many may feel.

Donate medical supplies or give blood. Numerous blood drives are available as the national supply runs low due to the cancellation of regular blood drive events.  Contact the Red Cross to find a location or special blood drive near you. If you have access to any masks, gowns or medical supplies to donate to our medical community contact our local UNC Hospital Campus or the Johnston County Health Department.

  1. Listen to the experts.  We have many talented medical professionals at the local, state, and national levels that have years of training in public health and infectious disease.  Listen to their directives and instructions.  Do not second-guess their recommendations.  Social distancing is currently our only weapon against a serious virus with no vaccine or cure.
  2. Set aside partisanship. Regardless of how you view the handling of the current crisis by either political party we must collectively move ahead with a solution for all citizens. There will be plenty of time to analyze, critique and armchair quarterback how our country, health system, and political leadership handled the pandemic after it’s over. Now is not the time to rail against policy simply based on a particular leader’s political party. Let’s use this unprecedented event to reach across the political aisle and not further divide.
  3. Support our county’s school system.  We’ve all heard the phrase over the past month that we are in “uncharted territory”. This is certainly true for our educational system. Imagine having to develop and implement an entire curriculum of online learning in one week. That’s essentially what we are asking of our teachers, administrators, board of education and system leadership. Give them your enthusiastic support. Send lots of thank you messages to your children’s teachers.  We all recognize that this will be less than an ideal school year for our students given the circumstances. Be positive with your kids and encourage them to see online learning as an exciting adventure rather than a major inconvenience.
  4. Connect with your faith community.  In the New Testament the apostle Paul writes of praying in the midst of anxiety and fear for “the peace of God which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7).  Use this unforeseen time of social isolation to reconnect with your God and re-invigorate your faith journey.  Spend some of your newfound free time at home to pray, meditate and ponder the blessings you’ve been given.  I’ve learned over and over as a physician that there is nothing like a life threatening illness to re-orient us to the things that really matter.

Will we conquer the COVID epidemic as a nation despite the significant hardships ahead? We will.  Will another virus threaten humanity’s existence again in the future? Almost certainly.  Will the economy rebound, schools open back up and job creation begin again when this is over? Definitely.

It’s not an understatement to point out that how we respond in this moment will define our generation.  If we can all demonstrate the selflessness, courage, and individual leadership needed to protect our most vulnerable citizens from a deadly infection we can only hope that our grandchildren will say of us, “in the worst of times our country demonstrated the very best it had to offer.”

Chuck Williams, MD is a family physician with Horizon Family Medicine of Clayton and father of three high school students. Dr. Williams is the co-founder of Project Access, a medical non-profit dedicated to providing healthcare for the uninsured of Johnston County.  He is a candidate for the Johnston County Board of Education this fall.