The initial period of the pandemic has served as a test of leadership in times of crisis. We are seeing that decisions, or lack thereof, have real consequences and we are learning about leaders’ characters and the impact on citizens’ trust. In this Ditchley discussion, we will ask what leadership entails in a time of crisis and what is its relationship with a moral framework. What qualities are necessary for providing citizens with confidence in leadership, and more fundamentally, maintaining their trust wherever they are led? There has been little public debate on leadership and morality.
What are the sources of moral authority available to leaders if they are compelled to take such choices as, for example, stricter and more extended isolation of groups of citizens? To what extent must democratic leaders allow citizens to set their own parameters for risk, whether this means a full resumption of life by older people acknowledging the extra risks they bear, or continued isolation by otherwise healthy people because of their personal fear and caution? Should governments pressure people who are fearful to resume work or to send their children to schools when they re-open?
Where do we go from here? Will the coronavirus pandemic alter in any significant way what we look for in society’s leaders? Will we search for leaders with empathy and care? Or will we search for leaders with technological know-how or strong decision making? Which leaders in the pandemic response should we celebrate and why?