Last week, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) delivered a press conference about the COVID-19 virus. (Click below for a 1-minute summary of his remarks..)
During this press conference, he made statements about the past and what has happened with the virus up to this point. He also made statements about the future of this virus if things don’t change.
And right in the middle of this press conference, he made one of the most important statements about leadership I have ever heard!
The Director General said, “Mixed messages from leaders are undermining the most critical ingredient of any response [to this virus]…TRUST.” As a student of leadership, the full weight of that statement struck me last week. The world expert on this global pandemic is saying that nothing will prevent the spread of COVID-19 as effectively as the trust between governments and their citizens.
Think about what Ghebreyesus just said… Trust is more important than testing kits, social distancing, and personal protective equipment right now! Wow! This guy understands the power of leadership during a time of crisis.
When leaders lose trust
The essential ingredient for effective leadership is trust! It doesn’t matter what industry; no leader can be successful without the trust of his or her followers. As trust grows, a leader gains greater influence. Some of the greatest, boldest decisions leaders have ever made were built on a rock-solid foundation of trust.
Climbing a mountain can be scary. People can’t be pushed or pulled to greater heights on the mountain. -They must want to climb to the next level. However, fear of failure or the unknown can often hold people back from taking the next step to get up the mountain. Trust is the currency that causes people to follow a leader along the scary mountain trails.
Here’s an article backed with some Harvard research about what happens when leaders lose trust: When leaders trade honesty for harmony
Follow with care
Since leadership has such a powerful influence over our lives, we must all be careful whom we follow. However, during a crisis, leadership becomes even more important. We often look to leaders when times get tough. As the problems grow, people willingly grant leaders more personal influence, in hopes that the leader will be able to help solve their problems.
This is basically what happened to the German population in the mid-1930s as they looked for a leader who would deliver them from their economic and international problems. Many German citizens willingly gave Adolf Hitler power over their lives when he promised to deliver them from their current crisis.
History has many other examples of leaders who took advantage of a crisis to make themselves untouchable. These historical examples should remind us to be very careful whom we follow at all times… but, be especially careful in a crisis! During a crisis, a leader’s character matters more than ever!
There is a common longing in the human heart for trustworthy leadership. I believe people willingly follow good, noble leaders. However, we have been burned by leaders so many times that it’s really hard to know whom to trust. This dynamic plays out in almost every leadership environment known to man.
Let me help you figure out what kind of leader to follow. Deep in your heart, you already know that people are going to let you down. You’ve never seen the perfect leader- nor have I. Therefore, no matter whom you trust for leadership, at some point they’re going to stumble. And when you follow a leader who stumbles, it hurts more than just him or her. Often, you are hurt in the process when a leader makes mistakes.
This is a lesson from one of the greatest leadership examples in the Bible. The book of Nehemiah is a record of amazing leadership during a time of crisis. In Nehemiah 10, the people of Jerusalem are making a solemn commitment to follow the perfect leader; they are making a covenant with God. God alone is perfect. Therefore, to place more trust in a human leader than in God will ultimately let you down. This is what misplaced loyalty looks like.
I believe Nehemiah 10 is teaching us that it’s OK to follow human leaders … but our ultimate loyalty must belong to God alone, because he is the only perfect leader- he alone is worthy of our perfect trust! For a whole sermon on it, watch: Listen to Leaders, but be loyal to Jesus only!