HBSWK: These Coronavirus Heroes Show Us How Crisis Leadership Works

Now is the time for leaders to inspire their organizations to help the world through the COVID-19 crisis. Bill George has a list of authentic leaders who are up to the challenge.

We are in the greatest crisis of our lifetimes—even worse than 9/11 and the 2008-09 financial meltdown that triggered the Great Recession. This crisis is directly affecting every person, even those who don’t recognize it yet.

Now is a time for leaders, particularly authentic leaders, to step up to the challenges and inspire their organizations to help the world work its way through these difficult times.

In a crisis like this, there is no place for leaders to be bragging or overpromising the capabilities of their company or using this crisis for competitive wins or publicity for themselves or their companies. If ever there was a time for leaders to be authentic, this is it. They need to be humble, open, and realistic about the health care and logistical challenges they are facing while using the best scientific and technical talent in their organizations to address the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Fortunately, many of our corporate and scientific leaders are already stepping up, unselfishly taking action to stop the spread of the virus and minimize its health and economic impact. Here is my personal “Heroes List” of authentic leaders who are making a difference in overcoming the challenges of COVID-19:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been at the center of every virus attack for the past 30 years, from SARS and MERS to Ebola and H1N1. Now, at 79, Fauci is the central figure that Americans depend upon to lead us through this crisis with his honest, candid advice and counsel. Last week he was on all five Sunday talk shows and then on a Facebook Live show with Mark Zuckerberg, followed by the CNN Town Hall with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Thomas Schinecker, CEO of Roche Diagnostics, leads a company that received the FDA’s first emergency use authorization  for a commercially developed COVID-19 test on March 13. Roche now believes it can ship up to 400,000 test kits per week.

Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck. His company is the leading American manufacturer of antibiotics—those life-saving drugs required for pneumonia caused by COVID-19—as others have abandoned them to pursue more lucrative drugs. Frazier elected to stay in the business because he knows how essential antibiotics are for people. Last week he confronted a different challenge: keeping Merck’s antibiotic factory running after school closures forced employees with children to stay home.

Omar Ishrak, Medtronic CEO, leads a global company of 100,000 people. His greatest challenge currently is ramping production of desperately needed ventilators from the Medtronic factory in Galway, Ireland. He has publicly committed to double production from 5,000 to 10,000 units per month, but that is just the start. Next come the challenges of getting supplies from all over the world, hiring and training new employees, and finally, sorting out massive international orders from hospitals and governments. Separately, Medtronic is using its remote monitoring capabilities to track people with coronavirus in their homes. (Full disclosure: I am a former chair and CEO of Medtronic).

Adam Schechter, LabCorp CEO, and Stephen Rusckowski, Quest CEO, face the challenge of ramping up tests for COVID-19 in their labs as pressure mounts for rapid and accurate test results. LabCorp and Quest, the world’s largest blood testing agencies, weren’t engaged to take on this Herculean task until March 13 because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) insisted on controlling the tests. Now both companies are going all out on testing.

Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, CEO of Mayo Clinic, was faced with the painful decision to shut down all elective surgery in order to focus treating COVID-19 patients and other emergency cases. In addition, Mayo has developed and verified its own test for COVID-19 and is currently able to run 1,000 tests per day.

David A. Ricks, CEO of Eli Lilly. Under Ricks’ guidance, Lilly has teamed with AbCellera Biologics to find antibodies to disarm COVID-19. Looking for the correct antibody sequence, they have screened 5 million immune cells using machine learning. Separately, Lilly has opened its labs to test people for coronavirus, saying it can test 1,000 to 2,000 per day.

Mike Roman, CEO of 3M, is doubling production of N95 masks to 1.1 billion per year in response to rapidly growth in demand from hospitals all over the world.

Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, faces a different set of challenges. While other retailers are rapidly cutting staff, he and his team need 150,000 temporary workers to keep up with the near-term demand for basic food, beverages, and supplies. With suppliers all over the world, McMillon also has to manage massive logistical challenges. Meanwhile, McMillon took the bold step in mid-March of paying $550 million in one-time bonuses to hourly employees to reward them for keeping shelves stocked in a time of unprecedented demand.

Brian Cornell, CEO of Target, invested $300 million in his employees, increased wages by $2 per hour until May 2, provided up to 30 days paid sick leave for people over 65, and gave one-time bonuses to 20,000 hourly store team leads.

These corporate leaders and many others like them are responding to President Trump’s March 13 call to unleash Corporate America to help stem the tide of COVID-19 and to minimize its damage. They are role models for what authentic leaders should do in a crisis.

Now it’s your turn. Which leaders are rising above and beyond to pilot their organizations through this crisis? Please post your answer in Comments below.

This content was originally posted on 3/24/2020 on HBSWK.com.