Can a Virus Vote?


There’s an old adage that “all politics is local.” Lately, though, in the thick of the worst pandemic in a century, it can feel like “all politics is loco.”

That’s why I’m asking, “Can a virus vote?”

We all know the answer, of course, but you wouldn’t know it from our need to politicize everything—even something that should be as political-proof as a deadly virus.

COVID-19 isn’t registered with any political party, as far as I know. Yet that doesn’t stop us from forming sides on all kinds of issues surrounding it.

It’s a fool’s errand that doesn’t resolve anything.

All it does it slow us down from moving past this terrible shock to our system.

As if the virus itself isn’t damaging enough in its lethal power to disrupt and destroy lives and livelihoods, we poison an already bad situation with petty differences.


Why, for example, at a time like this, is anybody in their right mind even mentioning red states or blue states? Not only can’t a virus vote, it’s also color blind.

It’s time to stop taking sides! That’s a cop-out to avoid the thorny issues facing us.

It’s time to take action! That’s a commitment to tackle the thorny issues facing us.

Which choice is yours? I don’t see that there is a choice. It’s bad enough that we’re led to believe in a false choice: either save the economy or save lives. The only choice, obviously, is to do both.

I’m all about taking action. That’s why I’ve been paying extremely close attention to how our leaders are handling themselves—and handling us—during this sharp detour from normalcy.

There is no truer test of leadership than managing a crisis, and we’ve been stuck inside the mother of all crises, something we have no experience managing.

It’s a unique challenge that calls for the ultimate authentic leadership because it’s more crucial than ever. Lapsed leadership, by sharp contrast, is more intolerable than ever—and it’s counter-productive because it delays recovery.


What is authentic leadership? It is acting tough. Not like a bully. And not with bravado, which edges closer to buffoonery than to bravery.

We all are familiar with the insecure colleague who tries so hard to impress others with the appearance of superiority that it backfires. They reveal their true selves by acting foolishly. You know the type: “all talk, no action.”

That type can be found even in the most powerful positions imaginable. They get there by bluster and a slick elevator pitch. Eventually, they are unmasked. Their theatrical bravado quickly turns into a tired act they can’t sustain. They are not the leaders who inspire us to believe them, let alone follow their lead. Yes, many will follow, but hopefully most won’t be fooled by fraudulent claims, and will be repelled by a constant show of self-involvement.

The kind of tough leader I’m talking about embraces “tough love.” They value being direct, not mincing words. They value being honest, even when the news they are sharing is not as uplifting as they or we would like it to be. They respect the intelligence of their audience, while the inauthentic leader insults it.

There is an elite group of leaders who filled that role fully in their impressive handling of the pandemic. They are the authentic leaders I most value, and whom business leaders would do well to emulate.


The leadership mantra of the role models includes bywords such as tough, smart, united, discipline, and—yes—loving. It takes a seasoned, bold, and confident leader to feel comfortable using that last word as part of crisis management.

Authentic leaders of that caliber care sincerely about the welfare of those who look to them for help and answers. They don’t let emotions color their decisions one way or the other. They think with their head, not with their heart! They stick to the facts and share them transparently, practicing the principle of “what you see is what you get.”

And they don’t take sides. They take action!

The fearful leader is reluctant to share too much information, especially if the facts and figures don’t fit their fanciful narrative that serves a political agenda. They didn’t get the memo that a virus can’t vote.

The fearful leader is reflexively defensive and can’t help but see every situation in terms of “whose side are you on?”


Lost in all the choosing sides are the people looking for decisive, empathetic leadership. They end up overlooked, left to fend for themselves. They end up leaderless.

One famously authentic leader perfectly captured the essence of a famously inauthentic leader by using such tell-tale terms as tribal, self-centered, divided, and always looking for enemies.

The legends of the authentic leader and the inauthentic leader are lessons for today’s business leaders, as well as tomorrow’s.

As our work culture returns to some semblance of business as usual, there will be opportunities, perhaps unexpected, for demonstrations of leadership that echo the best practices of crisis management we are witnessing now.

There’s no better lesson to learn from authentic leaders in the pandemic than the wisdom of not taking sides. Instead, use all your energy for taking action.


Be transparent in your dealings with colleagues—whether supervisors or peers—and certainly when engaging with customers. Be united with them in common purpose. Demonstrate discipline in your wise use of time and resources.

And there’s that other virtue we talked about. The operative word here is empathy. As much as we’ve been obliged to be socially distant during the spread of the coronavirus, in a work environment, unless your co-workers are robots, being distant (in empathy) is not a commendable trait.

It doesn’t mean becoming unduly involved in anyone’s personal lives.

It’s simply being sensitive and responsive to them as fellow human beings. It’s not being nasty or condescending or bullying. It’s showing generosity of spirit like all authentic leaders do. It’s treating others as you want to be treated. It’s not taking sides.

Finally, let yourself be vulnerable. It keeps you open to new ideas, new goals, new collaborations.

Giving yourself permission to be vulnerable will keep you strong.

Originally posted on Forbes.

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