I was a student athletic trainer when I was in high school. It was an easy class to fulfill my sports requirement since I didn’t want to play sports (other than soccer, of course) at the school, and you don’t play soccer in the winter or spring. One of my assignments was to travel with the baseball team to their tournaments and games and be there for first aid when something happened. I didn’t handle any serious stuff, really. It was mostly about icing sprains, wrapping jammed fingers, or cleaning scrapes and other wounds. I think the most serious thing I ever handled was a concussion. By “handle” I mean “dealt with for five minutes before the ambulance arrived”.
Anyway, at one of the baseball team’s practices, the coach was giving a chat to his players. He was very adamant about one concept: Thinking. He wanted them to think about the plays and react to the situation. He said that it was “idiotic” to just stand out on the field and wait for something to happen and then react to it. He told his players to always be mindful of the situation. Are there any runners on base? What’s the score? What’s the count? Which side is the hitter batting from? He told them to be mindful of every detail of what was going on during the game. “Look at the flags and see which way the wind is blowing because the ball’s gonna move on you that way,” he said.
This past week, I participated in a week-long seminar on strategic leadership in developing countries. For me, the course was less about how to be a leader and more about how leadership works. I’m a believer that you can’t make a leader, you can only bring out the leader in one who already has what is needed to be one. (What is needed is a subject for a whole other post.) One of the things that a leader should be ready for is a changing situation on the ground where he or she is working. The examples the professor gave was the response to national crises by presidents and world leaders. He was critical of statements like the ones coming out of the White House during the chemical warfare actions of the Syrian government to its people. The White House announced that the President was meeting with the national security panel. In the professor’s view, the White House should have announced that the President was aware of the situation and that a response was forthcoming. Announcing that he was meeting to decide what to do made the President and his cabinet seem unprepared.
There must always be a plan B, a plan C, and even a plan D.
The professor was intimately involved in the 1986 popular uprising in the Philippines. He was a member of the opposition, and he coordinated a lot of the messaging to the international media during the elections, the popular uprising, and the ensuing coup d’etat that ended the Marcos regime. He told us about how they had to change their strategies over and over to adjust to the moves of the dictator’s government. He said that they always had a plan be, and that this was one of the big reasons for their success. Like the baseball players at the high school, the revolutionaries asked themselves “what if?” over and over to be able to adapt to whatever the government threw at them.
Sadly, I see a lot of our leaders and authority figures being unable to adapt and adjust to a changing situation. I saw it a lot working at the health department during the 2009 pandemic. Things were changing, and they were changing hour-by-hour. But there were still those in positions of authority that wanted to do things “the way they’ve always been done”. When it was suggested to them that we use social media like (the then young) Twitter and (the already established) Facebook to inform the public on what to do — on top of distributing the messages on radio and television — the people at the top had an allergic reaction. In their minds, social media was a gimmick, something no one in the real world did. Or, if they used social media, it wasn’t being used by adults, only kids.
And don’t get me started over the discussions to close down schools. If the sole source of the spread of the H1N1 influenza virus was schools, shutting them down completely would have been the best thing to do. But shutting them down weeks into the pandemic and without other social distancing measures for those kids outside of the school, like not allowing them to mingle in malls and sporting events… Well, it was not a good move, in my epidemiological opinion.
If you ever get to be in a position of authority, or leadership, don’t forget to have plans B, C, and D ready to go for situations that are evolving. It is embarrassing for something to happen and you not be prepared for it. It can be tragic for the unexpected to arrive and you not even have a clue of how to handle it. Also, check to make sure your laces are tied, lest you trip yourself trying to catch a fly ball into center for the third out and end up losing the game.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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