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Harvard Researcher explains how leaders act during a crisis

We spoke to an expert at Harvard about what drives elected leadership during a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic. He’s studied various national crises, such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Boston Marathon bombing. But he told us nothing compares in terms of scope and scale to the coronavirus pandemic; still, history is a great teaching tool.

If Harvard researcher Eric McNulty had to compare the coronavirus pandemic to something, he would pick the 2010 BP oil spill.

“It was a multi-state event, again, highly political,” McNulty said. “But, there, we found there was actually a lot of cooperation among the governors.”

We explained to McNulty how Southwest Florida is being governed by the region’s counties, cities, towns and villages regarding COVID-19 — each doing its own thing.

Some municipalities implemented mask mandates or beach restrictions, while others did not.

“This is a time when you would truly like state leaders setting a consistent tone,” McNulty said. “I think the science is pretty clear that masks make a difference; social distancing makes a difference. And, iif we want to actually get things back to normal in terms of our economic activity, our schools reopening, the best way to do that is to have as many people as possible getting the basics right.”

We asked McNulty if he felt politics are driving our elected leaders, since the pandemic occurred during an election year.

“Any political leader is always worried about the what their constituents think about their decisions,” McNulty said. “What you’re looking for, what you’re hoping for, is that they’re always driving towards the greater good, for the community for the state, not for their own personal self-interest that’s when things get ugly.”

McNulty says leaders who worked together during the Boston Marathon bombing exemplify the most collaborative leadership he’s ever studied. He says they separated their differences behind closed doors and put the mission first and saved lives.

“We have found that leaders in crisis have two great things at their disposal: One is information; the other is empathy,” McNulty said. “With information, you want to make sure that you have all of the stakeholders around the table; you’re communicating with them and being transparent … When it comes to empathy, you have to be expressing compassion and understanding for what each of those stakeholders is going through. What are their expectations in this situation and of you? And how can you best meet them?”

Reporter:Morgan Rynor
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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