Corona crisis leadership – The Modi way

Corona crisis leadership – The Modi way
Corona crisis leadership – The Modi way

Whoever thought that one day the entire humanity will be held in the giant grip of a tiny virus whose size is no more than a few nanometers, a mere 0.0000008 of an inch?

You can't wish me away

You can't wash me away

As you pray

I prey on you

You become me

My clone, let us ENSLAVE the World …

By #COVID -19

Whoever thought that one day the entire humanity will be held in the giant grip of a tiny virus whose size is no more than a few nanometers, a mere 0.0000008 of an inch?

And who would have imagined that one of the tallest the most powerful leaders of the world would fold his hands and appeal to his countrymen for co-operation while his nation fights this pandemic?

But such is the nature of a disaster. It gives you no friendly warning and no time at all to prepare for the onslaught.

This invisible enemy, this lung eating corona virus has already brought the entire humanity to its knees by unleashing a war game hitherto never played.

Having attacked around 3 million people across the world, still hungry it continues to ravage the world. As it hunts for its prey, terrified people are looking to their leaders for rescue. World leaders have been ruthlessly pulled out of their comfort zone – if they had managed a monumental crisis in the past, this is not even remotely close to that.

In routine emergencies, countries normally rely on their command-and-control structure to manage operations. They carry out scripted responses. There will be a disaster management machinery - which will look into scenarios that have been fed into the system. But this corona pandemic is not a normal crisis.

It is a type of crisis that transports you into an unfamiliar terrain and abandons you there. You have never been there before nor have you read about it anywhere. Everything seems uncertain and to navigate this terrain, there are no rule books.

You have to draw from your past experience and your presence of mind. Every response has to be measured and improvised. This is exactly where all country leaders find themselves to be in right now.

Everybody was caught unawares and no one can claim that they were prepared for this pandemic. As they say unusual situations demand unusual responses, each country is discovering its own method writing its own lexicon on 'how we are fighting COVID-19'.

Crisis leadership is not only about navigating an unknown terrain that is terrifying, but is also about demonstrating calm while doing that. Crisis leadership also demands that you 'Grin, Bear and lead like a Visionary'!

Its about managing mass hysteria, debunking fake news, soothing hurt & balming open sores. Every little thing goes under a magnifying lens during crisis. Every noise gets amplified. People will be excitable. Relationships will be strained and resources will be stretched.

Nothing will be close to normal. While emotions run riot, everyone is ready to explode at the slightest trigger. Paradoxically the contours of selfishness & selflessness disappear. Your once all too familiar world will become scary and surreal.

While this is a generic picture, each country has its own unique presentation but India's challenges are way more and way more complex. Let me start with just one challenge – the diversity of India.

India is diverse so is the virus

India is a large country with an extremely diverse population of 1.3 billion people packed into 36 geographically separated areas – 28 states with 8 union territories.

These 1.3 billion people belong to various religions, sects, castes and sub-castes who collectively speak 22 languages and more often than not slip into their 20,000 dialects specific to their region.

For those who care to know the real magnitude of the challenge– just visualize India as a sum total of these nations- Switzerland, Venezuela, Taiwan, Cuba, Greece, UK, Brazil, France, South Africa, Mexico, Australia, Spain, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Peru, Philippines and Canada or simply 5 USAs in population size!

Normally such maps are drawn to teach school children the relative sizes of nations and may even be shared for fun by some social media groups but here it is being mentioned to portray the sheer magnitude of problem that lay before Prime Minister Modi.

India is not just a large diverse nation but a large diverse nation that has a highly complex stratified society!

Now experts are of the opinion that corona virus that invaded the world is also highly diverse.

As opposed to DNA viruses, RNA Viruses (corona virus belongs to this category) generally have very high mutation rates. This is one reason why it is difficult to make effective vaccines to prevent diseases caused by RNA viruses—diversity is their strength.

India's challenge is not just her diversity but the diversity of the virus too! In a perverse sense it's a double whammy for India.

Any leader who can navigate the country thru this crisis has to be acknowledged as a real leader.

Though there are many aspects of leadership that need to be studied, the one that needs be under the arc lights is a leaders communication style.

There have been books published earlier about Prime Minister Modi's communication style which is highly persuasive and impactful. But crisis communication is a different ball game all together.

When the audience emotions and expectations run high everything the leader says sounds either shallow, pompous or unreal.

Achieving a middle path is a big challenge

In a country like India that is so diverse, complex and stratified its impossible to say something without being misunderstood, hurting some section of society or the other.

Deliberate calm and controlled optimism

Prime Minister Modi's communication is deliberately calm and demonstrates controlled optimism. "Deliberate Calm," is the ability to detach from a highly challenging situation and seeing it from a distance.

It helps one get a perspective. It lets the leader wriggle out the shackles of emotion- he can then think clearly about how to navigate the situation. It is believed that 'deliberate calm' is most often found in well-grounded individuals who possess humility but not helplessness.

Another important quality is "controlled optimism," or optimism combined with realism.

At the very beginning of a crisis if leaders display excessive confidence in spite of obviously difficult conditions, they can lose credibility. We did not see that excessive confidence in Prime Minister's speeches.

What we clearly saw was his resolve and his optimism about Indians collective resolve to tide over this calamity. I have every reason to believe that Prime Minister Modi has mastered the art of deliberate calm and controlled optimism when he said this in his speech…

"India's fight against the Corona global pandemic is moving ahead with great strength and steadfastness. It is only because of your restraint, penance and sacrifice that, India has so far been able to avert the harm caused by corona to a large extent. You have endured immense suffering to save your country, save your India."

It is believed that to test someone's character, see what he does when he thinks that nobody is watching him. But to truly test a leader?

See how he handles a crisis - especially a crisis of this proportion when the whole world is watching him!

Prime Minister Modi's Crisis leadership my friends will surely be codified for posterity...

(The writer is BJP leader, president, Futuristic Cities, global thought leader, advisor on smart cities, governance & policy)

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