In the first four blogs in this series (here, here, here and here), we shared our hypothesis that societies and individuals are more resilient to cope with the COVID-19 crisis when they reconcile opposing values like rules vs. exceptions, short-term vs. long-term and being in control vs. being emotional. In this blog, we concentrate on the Achievement vs. Ascription orientation and how the joining of both can lead to better results.

In many nations, there is a scarcity of facemasks, ventilators and IC beds. We have seen vividly the speed in which the Chinese and New Yorkers are building extra coronavirus care units in Wuhan and Central Park. In some countries, like in Italy, Spain, and possibly the Netherlands, there is increasingly a shortage of IC beds and professional medical staff to treat the patients.

Do we remember the Italian nurse crying because she saw doctors making a choice between which patients are going to die and which are not? It has brought us to the most devilish of dilemmas created by the COVID -19 crisis: to die or to be treated. Therefore, we need to go into ethics. How would be the best way to describe a doctor with integrity?

Criteria for choosing in life and death situations

 The scarcity of means has led to quite deep ethical dilemmas. And it is our argument again that the dilemmas are human but the approach cultural. So how can we best define this devilish dilemma?

Wikipedia informs us that an ethical dilemma is a situation in which someone has different choices of action related to morality. An ethical dilemma always contains different values. These dilemmas are mainly used to demonstrate that a utilitarian solution often leads to undesirable situations. But is a non-utilitarian solution better?

So it is important to discover what values and norms are at stake here.

First of all, the right of every human individual to get the best care possible and that all people have a right to live. And every medical professional would agree. Therefore, is there agreement as well that human beings are equivalent? So what to do if there is a scarcity of beds or ventilators to help coronavirus patients to survive? What are the criteria on which we base our decision to choose one patient over the other?

Following the discussion carefully, we see that most arguments are around the dilemma between the ascribed status of a human being equivalent versus the chance of surviving for a longer quality of life. The latter could be coined the potential achievement of the person at stake.

If we are all equal, we could have a head or tail decision. But what if you are a youngster of 16 and you lose the game against an 85-year-old with type 1 diabetes? So the gamble could be as a compromise where in the long run there are as many winners as losers.

If we would go for the equivalence principle, it would be a first-come, first-served situation with a lot of lost necessary lives. On the other extreme, we find the preference of younger people over older people without any consideration if the person has lived responsibly or his or her value to society. A 40-year-old doctor has no preference over an 18-year-old criminal.

So what would be a reconciliation? We see that some countries have installed a multi-age and multidiscipline group to discuss what the criteria would be with a veto right for every individual. Questions were asked by the professional facilitators what you would do if you are 85 and your grandchild of 8 years needs serious help.

The criteria that are developed are transparently published and every medical professional (except the ones related to a patient) will base their choice on the criteria published in this document.

Leadership dilemmas in a crisis

COVID-19 is ravaging the global economy and presenting employers with unprecedented challenges. For Gravity Payments’ CEO Dan Price, that challenge was crushing. The company’s revenue had essentially been cut in half.

Price was faced with a grave decision: lay off 20 percent of his employees or go bankrupt. In the internet news site Inc.com, we read that Price refused to accept either option. Instead, he decided to do something almost unheard of in America’s business environment. He asked his employees what to do.

What followed was a master class in servant leadership – and a major lesson in how to run a business in the face of difficult challenges. On March 19, Price called a companywide meeting to let employees know the state of the business and solicit creative strategies for navigating the next few months. He scheduled 40 one-hour-long meetings with small groups of employees to check in and gather ideas.

Those meetings revealed some key insights. While everyone was willing to make a sacrifice if it meant keeping Gravity in business and avoiding layoffs, not every employee could afford to give up the same amount. Employees with higher earnings generally gave up more while lower-paid employees gave up less. But everyone in the company took a cut.

The lesson was simple, yet remarkable.

“CEOs: please, consider talking with your employees before laying them off,” Price wrote on Twitter. “When we told employees this, they volunteered pay cuts that will get us through eight to twelve months, with no layoffs.”

Price’s approach to dealing with his company’s financial woes showed evidence of great servant leadership – the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions. After you’ve presented the situation to your people, try to hold structured meetings with them, in small groups if possible. Then, listen carefully – without interrupting.

Takeaway: Instead of trying to solve your company’s problems yourself, give your people a chance to participate. This makes them feel less like the victim who is subjected to the demands of his clueless employer, and more like a partner who’s invested in making the solution work.

What can we learn from this inspiring story?

If we have a look at the Australian organizational resilience guide, our gut feeling is confirmed that in crisis situations, many traditional dilemmas disappear and new ones emerge.

Confirm authority and direction

 In a crisis, changing circumstances may prompt a change in management style from consultative to a “command and control” approach. Due to the uncertainty, complexity and dynamic nature of a crisis that usually occurs in the initial phase, there will be a requirement for someone to lead decision-making. According to the Anglo-Saxon mindset, the crisis manager typically will exercise conferred authority on behalf of an organization and provide direction to the crisis management team.

Consultative management is where managers consult other team members before arriving at a decision. These decisions are made on the quality of each individual contributing and are therefore achievement-oriented. The setback of this style is that it can be long-winded and takes too much time to make a decision in a crisis asking for quick responses. It is for that reason that people tend to call this the “Dutch and Swedish disease”.

Command and control is often hierarchical with clearly defined decision-making structures and responsibilities. It is based on ascribed status. Command and control management style is often favored in a crisis and requires decisions to be made quickly. Inevitably, this relies on strong leadership and a clear understanding of actual and potential issues that impact the organization. However, as we can see on the graph below, it can lead to situations where not enough information is gathered by subordinates that have crucial information. As a result, you all drop down the cliff.

In providing direction, crisis leaders need to find a balance between the rigidity often found in command and control structures and the use of decentralized consultative decision-making processes, which is important in effective crisis management. It is this combination that makes one a servant leader as Robert Greenleaf, founder of the modern Servant leadership movement, once pointed out to us.

To see how different cultures have reconciled this dilemma, we conducted a survey through our Corona Resilience app, where we asked more than 500 users from various countries to respond to statements representing opposing ideas. Responses were given on a sliding scale from “Agree” to “Disagree”. Let’s see how 10 nations scored on the following two statements:

  • In the Corona crisis, we respect the authority of our leaders unconditionally.
  • In the Corona crisis, our leaders consult us so they don’t miss out on good ideas.

Here are those results:

Free Self-Test: the Corona Resilience Test App

There are more aspects to Corona Resilience than simply assessment of Achievement vs. Ascription orientations that our national institutions stimulate. Use the Corona Resilience app to explore our integrated approach based on our extensive research and consulting practice in how to test your resilience against the virus. This app enables you to quickly assess your individual and your society’s Corona Resilience Profile and gives you some personalized feedback and explanation of our methodology.

Click here to download the app.