It all began with a grin; “I ain’t scared of no virus, you scaredy cats!” My friend typed in our chat back in February 2020 when the world witnessed the spread of COVID-19 from country to country. Many panicked, and as a natural, collective behavior, we all turned to our leaders to help us. Many of our leaders acted swiftly adding restrictions and extra layers of security at their country borders. Some other leaders, however, took the outbreak lightly. When the number of fatalities on the New York Times Coronavirus Map went up, all leaders saw the bitter truth: “this thing really kills!” says the same friend of mine after 2 weeks. Is it the virus that kills or our judgement in leadership, that is a question remains to be seen as we, the human race, are now pushing our leaders to open the economy.
Leadership in humans is not much different than other species. We choose the best and strongest of all to lead the community/herd. In both cases, humans and animals turn to their leaders for protection. We trust them to make the best decisions for their respective communities. Simon Sinek, British-American author and motivational speaker, explains this concept. “We evolved into social animals, where we lived together and worked together in what I call a circle of safety, inside the tribe.” In this circle, we find comfort, safety, and cooperation, while on the outside, danger lurks. That’s why trust becomes the cornerstone of any human community translating into knowing the simple fact that while you are asleep, there are other people who watch over the community, protecting us against the dangers of the surrounding world. In short, we entrust power to our leaders to look after us.
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Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla, is one leader who opened his company defying California’s orders; the state’s orders were meant to contain the spread of COVID-19. As a leader, he had repeatedly said that he is against California’s state-wide shutdown. Referring to the US constitution, he even went to such lengths to challenge the local government saying it has no right to take people’s freedom of choice away. In his belief, managing the economy is just as important for the Tesla family as managing the current pandemic situation. His decision gave a positive signal to the stock market and was welcomed by many including US treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.
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On the other hand, in the state of NY, governor Cuomo is being praised for acting swiftly, taking control of the situation. His style of speaking frankly and directly to New Yorkers about the situation instilled trust in his leadership. He was able to make some of the strongest, most difficult decisions a leader must make. It was his decision that turned Times Square into a deserted intersection, making it look like a scene from an apocalyptic Hollywood movie. The level of trust went so high that many started speculating the words “President Cuomo” might not be a far-fetched idea. Something that he showed little interest so far.
The level of trust got strengthened when the country was informed that Gov. Cuomo’s younger brother, Christopher Cuomo, the host of Cuomo Prime Time on CNN, got infected with the coronavirus. The Governor announced this himself on April 1 under the title “Anyone can get this disease”. Many people felt close to him when they witnessed how personal this situation is for the Governor. In New Yorkers’ minds, he was no longer just a decision maker thinking politics; his decisions were rightfully there to protect every single family under his jurisdiction.
Unlike Elon Musk, Gov. Cuomo is taking a totally methodical approach to open the New York State’s economy. His focus at the moment is on testing citizens for coronavirus, making sure the spread of the virus is contained. He insisted that he is not going to sacrifice human lives for the sake of opening the economy. In addition, he laid down a plan for reopening the state region by region supported by maximum number of testing. Elon Musk’s focus is on the economy. He is worried about not meeting deadlines in delivering products and losing market shares, which in turn means massive layoffs and high unemployment rates.
Two influential figures made 2 completely different decisions when faced with this dilemma. One is controlling a state of roughly 20 million wives and husbands, children and senior citizens, while the other runs the most valuable car manufacturing company on the planet with hundreds of thousands employees, customers, and shareholders all around the world. Both have been receiving the latest, more accurate data from the medical and economic sources, reading the latest statistics, yet chose their different paths.
One thing is clear, both leaders have won the trust of their communities. People take into consideration what these leaders have accomplished in their lives. Gov. Cuomo comes from a family who honorably served the public in governments. Elon Musk is a genius behind SpaceX, Tesla, PayPal to name but a few. We all know both had made logical decisions before this pandemic, and their decisions benefited their communities. Their decisions in the past weigh heavily on our judgement and trust today.