Leadership and the Vaccination Movement

“Walk the walk.”

When it comes to effective leadership, particularly in this pandemic era, that phrase has come to stand out even more than just a way for leaders to serve their people and communities.

It is phrase that has quickly come to redefine the way we lead and live.

Over the course of the last year and a half, “walking the walk” has become a motto, of sorts, for today’s leader who wishes to demonstrate to those looking on (and up) at us, the necessary behaviours and mindsets to propel our organisations, our societies, and our global community toward success in the fight against COVID-19.

And that walk, that path, is vaccination.

Today’s leaders are being called upon to not only do their part in mobilising their teams to protect themselves and their loved ones, they are also expected to lead this particular movement from the front; that is, leaders must embody and channel the very ethic and behaviours they wish to see in their teams.

A Leader’s Role

As champions within our respective organisations, communities, and families, over time, we understand what it means to have an overarching responsibility to protect our people the best way that we can. This was a factor long before the pandemic, but since it has hit, has taken on even greater significance.

With the scientific and empirical data continually bearing out that humanity’s best chance in surmounting COVID-19 resides firmly on how widely and comprehensively we are immunised, a leader’s role, not surprisingly, in ushering the wider community to that level can never be overestimated.

More importantly, that role should never be abandoned for fear or doubt. As leaders, we did not come this far just to come this far.

When the pandemic first hit, we launched into lockdown and response mode. We implemented safeguards to protect our resources – human, financial and otherwise. We set up the necessary physical requirements, launched (where possible) remote work arrangements, and many of us made the extra effort to create workable healthcare and wellness programmes to care for our teams as they grappled with all that was happening.

When a business leader and their organisation vocalise their support of the vaccination movement, it is being proactive. It is sending a clear message to the entire business and national community of an expression of confidence in the healthcare system and the vaccines’ effectiveness.

Leaders can even up the proactive ante, as it were, and strategically employ vaccination incentives as a means of further “sweetening the pot.”

Our Republic team, for example, is currently running a vaccination promotion campaign, designed to incentivise our customers to protect themselves and their loved ones. You could it check out here https://www.rblpromotions.com/take-your-shot-to-win/ for more information and even some ideas you could try as well.

While incentivising and suasion are formidable allies in the fight to protect our people, any effort that a leader spares in getting more people immunised must ultimately stem from that fundamental understanding that complete vaccination is the most effective measure that we have in combatting COVID-19, restarting economic and social activity, and above all, saving lives.

Personally, my decision to get vaccinated was based on the knowledge that while my health and wellbeing ultimately reside in my hands, so too, do the health and wellbeing of my teams. I could not reasonably expect to serve at my best and most authentic in this pandemic era, encouraging my people to “take a jab at COVID-19”, without first taking the critical step to get vaccinated.

So I did and in so doing, hoped to demonstrate by example the importance of getting vaccinated if we are serious about taking back our lives and livelihoods from COVID-19.

Immunisation is the best way to achieve this. It is the ONLY way to go if we are serious about saving lives, mitigating the long-term physical effects of the virus, and providing humanity the most viable option to rebound successfully and sustainably from COVID-19. Getting us there is not going to be easy. But it is going to be worth it.

The Tough Talk

Leaders here and around the world are having increasing difficulty as they attempt to have the vaccine conversation with their people. When we took the decision to bring our people back to work, we had to be extremely mindful of the various concerns our people had with not only taking the vaccine, but also on what life returning back to the office would even look like or demand of them…of us.

Aside from issues of sweeping vaccine hesitancy (also borne out in the data with the numbers of unvaccinated and the attendant mortality rates), there is also the rise of the COVID-19 variants, which each new variant seemingly proving more infectious and detrimental than its progenitor.

As at the time of this chat, the delta variant, which has been causing problems all across the globe, has reached community spread in Trinidad and Tobago.

Against this backdrop, this is where and why I would like us to hone our focus on the benefits of astute leadership. This is the proverbial tough talk. This is where leaders are required to stand firm in protecting their people and their organisations armed with the right facts to make the right decisions.

Leadership is not about making the popular decision. Leadership is about taking the interests of ALL parties into consideration and deciding on the course of action that is in the interest of the greater good. Having decided on the chosen course of action, effective leadership remains about the 3 C’s.

Communication, Clarification, and Compassion.

1) Communication
Communication is the cornerstone of effective leadership.

Leaders need to communicate clearly what they stand for less they run the risk of standing for nothing. Shortly after vaccines began to become available, the controversy around vaccine hesitancy began. Long before vaccines became available in Trinidad and Tobago, many were expressing their reservations and the need for more “research.”

It was easy to anticipate that it would become a major issue in our twin island state as it was in most other countries in the world. Trinidad and Tobago had a long window of time (too long in the view of many) during which access to vaccines was quite limited. There was therefore ample time for all who were desirous of doing more research (medically qualified or otherwise) to undertake that research, since none were in the medical labs per se.

Crisis situations are not the time for ambivalence or obfuscation. Communicate clearly what you believe. If that is vaccination is what is required for the economic and physical wellbeing of all, then state so clearly and be prepared to support the talk with action. Communicate frequently what you believe and use every opportunity presented to you to do so.

2) Clarification

Effective leadership requires that the clear line is established and enforced, the red line so to speak. History is replete with examples of the consequences of red lines being drawn, exceeded and drawn over. Progress despises vacuums, and that is what occurs when there is a lack of clarity. In the case of this pandemic, the position of the organisation and my own position has been unambiguous from the outset.

Vaccination is the ONLY way forward.

Those who argue otherwise are either disingenuous or naïve. I have heard many commentators still argue that a public education campaign is important (really, after all this time??) and others stress the importance of choice even as they choose to be vaccinated. People must be respected and they don’t need to be cuddled and coaxed. They do need to understand that choices have consequences and while I am a firm advocate of people’s right to choose, that right is not unlimited.

Effective leaders need to make both their position, and the consequences of choice clear.

3) Compassion

Notwithstanding the need for clear, unambiguous, consistent and frequent communication re the need for vaccination, there should always remain room for compassion for those who are unable to get vaccinated. As we are all aware, the groups of such individuals are continuously narrowing, but there remain pockets for whom vaccination is currently not an option. While these individuals present the same risk as the voluntarily unvaccinated, treatment of these persons should be different.

The biggest debate within this Group should revolve around the treatment of those who advocate vaccine hesitancy due to religious beliefs. In this respect, there are usually two main arguments – (a) “the body as a temple” and (b) the use of “foetal tissue” in some aspect of the vaccine development. There is no correct counter to these arguments since someone’s genuine religious belief is their truth.

Disappointingly, many have put forward these arguments in an insincere manner, to disguise the true reasons for their hesitancy. Since it is nearly impossible for a leader to discern the difference, the reasonable approach is to ensure that (i) the religious defence is presented by the leader of the individual’s faith and (ii) an independent third party (preferably a respected inter religious organisation) weighs in on said defence.

Common Sense in a time of Change

The calls for vaccinations and vaccination mandates will only grow louder, and the unvaccinated will find themselves increasingly boxed in. We are already seeing it with safe zones not only in this country, but also safe zones in many other countries. It is likely that travel restrictions will follow, and, in many countries, access to public services and many forms of recreational activity are also being restricted. Effective leadership means that we have to push when necessary and this is one such necessary occasion.

We only need to look around at what is taking place in Europe, North America and closer to home in Guyana and Antigua to read the tea leaves. Vaccination mandates generate significant initial unrest in the country, but the leadership that is well-prepared and equipped to ride out that dissatisfaction, would then see the benefit of their insistence in the COVID-19 numbers (infections and more importantly, mortality rates) declining.

In this vaccination age we find ourselves in, it is too easy to get carried away in all the discussion and debate, common sense is what is required now. Every unvaccinated individual who ends up positive and in the hospital will be treated for the virus with various forms of life saving drugs. The impact of those drugs on their system, assuming they survive, could be far worse than the taking of the preventative vaccine. Leaders cannot shirk their responsibility at this time, you are responsible for keeping your people safe.

We are responsible for keeping each other safe.

Whatever your own personal view, stand up for the science, stand up for the silent majority, and stand up for the greater good.

Until the next time. Stay safe. Make the right call.

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