On January 27, 2022, at the Whitehouse briefing with Jen Psaki, a reporter asked why the Biden administration was not doing more to encourage healthy lifestyles as a mechanism to deal with the risks surrounding COVID-19. As quoted from the briefing (for a video montage of the Q&A, click here):
And then, on COVID: We have seen an effort from a few other countries to include a push for living a healthier lifestyle as part of the pandemic response. There’s been studies indicating efforts like weight loss can help prevent some of the more serious effects of COVID-19. Why hasn’t the President included a push for healthier lifestyles in his COVID messaging in addition to pushing Americans to get vaccinated?
There are two astonishing aspects about this question:
- This is the first time a reporter has directly asked about healthy living, weight loss and the contribution toward preventing serious symptoms of COVID-19. Keep in mind, COVID-19 was being discussed even prior to March, 2020, so it took almost two years for a legitimate question to be raised about the role healthy living plays in mitigating symptoms from COVID-19! Fortunately, other information sources have been touting this relationship since the early stages.
- It emphasizes the terribly misguided direction from the Biden administration & the U.S. government over the last year. Think about all the COVID-19 communications, interviews and teleprompter-led speeches from the Biden administration. Have you heard anyone spend a material amount of time outlining the risks around obesity & lifestyle choices, or how improving your BMI, reducing body fat & insulin resistance, and improving overall health can materially improve your ability to fight off severe COVID-19 symptoms? How much time has Dr. Anthony Fauci spent on the importance of health & wellness during his countless interviews vs. “vaccines as the end-all solution?”
- In contrast, in the tiny nation of El Salvador, a public service commercial has been created and aired that highlights the importance of exercise, Vitamin D from the sun, fresh air outdoors, healthy dietary behaviors, exercise, sleep and stress management, all in an effort to become healthier to reduce symptom risk. The message is “take care of yourself, and let’s take care of each other.”
- El Salvador’s message of personal accountability, health & wellness is in stark contrast to the lack of leadership and transparency from the Biden administration, ignoring the CDC’s own information that specifically talks about the risks of obesity and severe COVID-19 symptoms, instead focusing on unconstitutional vaccine mandates, useless mask enforcement, and actively limiting alternative treatment options that showed success against the Delta variant. Which do you think is more inclusive & transparent?
The Divide When Leadership Lacks Transparency
Frustration about the messaging around COVID-19 is very high. Whether it’s how COVID-19 cases are categorized, treatment options available to prevent severe symptoms, the lack of emphasis on how important diet and lifestyle are in limiting severe symptoms, the push for vaccination as the “only solution,” the safety of the vaccines, or the origin of the virus, the U.S. population has become more divided and more exhausted due to the complete lack of transparency. A lack of transparency from leadership fosters mis-trust, encourages rumors/misinformation, erodes collaboration while increasing division among the population, heightens frustration and destroys morale. If this is what the Biden administration has been seeking, mission accomplished, as we see this on a daily basis today.
The Kaiser Foundation just published results from their COVID-19 tracking monitor and the results reflect a level of exhaustion and frustration across all groups.
When you dig into the why of the frustration, more enlightenment emerges. Consider the divide in the following stats from the monitor:
- 62% of people think the vaccines are working, even though more and more vaccinated people are being diagnosed as COVID-19 positive. However, the percentage of people who think the vaccines are not working, due to those same vaccine-positive diagnoses, has grown to 34%.
- Among eligible adults, 42% are fully vaccinated (2 shots + booster), 34% are vaccinated (but not boosted) and 22% remain unvaccinated.
- While ~ 80% of people are confident in COVID-19 test results secured at a medical facility, only 54% are confident in the at home test results.
What is really enlightening, though, is how the worry about COVID-19 has shifted from personal health & safety to what impact COVID-19 will have on the economy, and how divided different political affiliations are on the biggest problems facing the nation. If you compare Democrats vs. Independents & Republicans, you almost see a picture of two different countries given their prioritization of problems. This is indicative of a leadership that is not transparent, as division, mis-trust and dissention around the big issues is becoming more and more apparent.
Best Practices in Fostering Leadership Transparency
The Biden administration’s failure to create an environment of transparency around COVID-19 has fostered more division, resentment, blame and skepticism, and is a great example of how NOT to deal with a major issue. As leaders, we have to embrace the importance of transparency and demonstrate it every day in how we operate to have any expectation that the rest of the organization will operate in a similar manner. This can be referred to as the “shadow of the leader” (something my former colleague, Travon, referred-to often during leadership discussions).
There are five important factors in creating, building & consistently creating a culture of transparency.
- Setting clear objectives & expectations. Being clear, concise and open to people about the objectives, goals and expectations is critical, but so is being realistic. Biden’s laughably erroneous claim he will “shut down the virus” is a great example of him losing any credibility by setting an unachievable goal with a focus on political pontificating vs. listening to the concerns of the population and providing a sound and thoughtful pathway to moving beyond COVID-19. He never had a plan and it shows.
- Collaboration and an open line of communication. Much can be learned about how collaborative and open to sharing an organization is when problems arise or conflict is experienced. Organizations with a collaborative culture, and that embrace open communication, shine during periods of uncertainty because they have been training during the good times, and do not have to learn how to work together. Importantly, an open line of communication means diverse thoughts can be expressed freely without intimidation, fear of retribution or censorship.
- Establishing & nurturing trust. Transparency is impossible without trust, but trust is a two-way street. Leaders have to be able to trust in the population and provide sound guidance and data to enable people to feel empowered and valued. Conversely, people have to be willing to listen, embrace & synthesize information, and discuss questions with leaders while providing honest feedback. In addition, be open to know what you don’t know, but recognize something is important and as soon as you know more, address it.
- Openness & empathy. The best leaders have a credible nature to their style. They are relaxed but focused, and communicate empathy around issues so they assure the population they are with them every step of the way. They don’t create animosity and division, but find ways to unite people through common cause, objective and pathways to success. This is why, in military terms, you hear the best leaders “lead from the front.”
- Solutions orientation. The best leaders don’t care where the ideas come from, only that the ideas are in the best interest of the population and can accomplish the objectives they have set out (see #1). This means focusing on acquiring information, being nimble and flexible, yet staying focused on the endgame. It also means giving credit and visibility to people who bring great ideas.
Transparency is a hallmark of a good leader (& leadership team), and while the current administration has been a failure in this regard, you can learn from the Biden administration about how NOT to lead, and instead implement the five above factors to create a culture of transparency. More than just the health of your organization may depend on it.