Is this Only about Lethargic Leaders – or Equally about Feckless Followers?

The lead headline in yesterday’s New York Times read, “Despite Timely Alerts, Trump Was Slow to Act.” It was similar to a headline in today’s Washington Post, “Signs Missed and Steps Slowed in Trump’s Pandemic Response.”

As the headlines suggested, both articles focused on the president’s sluggish response to what became the virus crisis. Similarly, both articles included the names of other players who worried early on that Trump’s response could prove dangerously inadequate. These others included top White House advisors, experts deep in cabinet departments, and members of various intelligence agencies.  

Whatever their ranks, or their titles, or their levels of expertise, everyone of these other players were subordinates who saw Trump as their superior. Not, presumably, their intellectual superior, better equipped than they to address their escalating concerns. But as their organizational superior – their leader, the chief executive, who was positioned higher than they in the government hierarchy.

It was this hierarchy that stopped these advisors, these experts, and these officials, from speaking up and speaking out in ways they could be heard. Heard not by the president, who remained for too long deaf to their incantations. But by the body politic who was kept out of the loop, who was kept ignorant of what was happening in the ominous present and, more importantly, of what was threatening to happen in the immediate future. Instead, for all practical purposes those in the know kept those of us who were not in the dark. Those in the know remained, effectively, mute – more Bystander Followers than Activist Followers at a time when it was activism not passivism that was desperately needed.

I will have more to say about Followers’ responses to the pandemic in future articles. Meantime it’s up to you to see the global pandemic not only through the lens of leaders, but equally through the lens of followers. Only then can you tell the pandemic in full.

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