Failure of Leadership – or was it Followership? – at Mayo Clinic

In mid-April, the Mayo Clinic issued a policy statement in response to the coronavirus crisis. The statement was clear. It read in part: “Beginning today (Monday April 13) Mayo Clinic is requiring all patients and visitors to wear a face covering or mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19.” Notice the policy states that “all” patients and visitors are required to cover their nose and mouth, not “some.”

Two days ago, though, when Vice President Mike Pence visited Mayo Clinic, he wore no face covering of any kind. Pictures reveal that everyone around him was wearing mask. And we know that in advance of his visit Pence was informed about Mayo’s mask policy. Still, he wore no face covering whatsoever when he came to visit, nor did his willful refusal to follow the house rule seem to intrude on his experience.  

As soon as it became known that Pence had flagrantly flouted Mayo policy, he was slammed for what he did in the press and by the press. He was charged with acting “dangerously” and “disrespectfully,” and of setting a bad example. All of which is true – he did behave badly, and he did set a bad example for which he was roundly and soundly as well as properly pasted.  

But… was the Vice President the only one who did anything wrong? Or was there someone else, at least one someone else, who could be charged with shirking, or maybe it was shrinking from, his or her duty?

Imagine that you are responsible for running one of the nation’s premier medical facilities during a public health crisis.  In response to this crisis you set a policy intended to protect every single individual who crosses your threshold. The policy is assumed to be ironclad, no exceptions, for even a single exception would pose widespread risk.    

Further imagine that one day an anonymous man comes to visit who is not wearing a mask. Would you tell, or have someone else tell, this man to put on a mask? Would you insist that before this man sets foot on the premises he must put on a mask because failure to do so would violate policy? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, why would you do any different if this man were Vice President of the United States? Is the Vice President above the law? Or did you – if you were responsible for running one of the nation’s premier medical facilities during a public health crisis – follow his lead rather than lead yourself?

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