Leadership, Crisis Management and the Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has become a global threat in a very short amount of time. As of March 2, 2020, there were 88,948 confirmed cases worldwide and 3,043 confirmed deaths.

Coronavirus has been described briefly as a severe form of the seasonal flu. Many symptoms of coronavirus and the seasonal flu overlap, making it difficult to detect at first. However, symptoms are capable of remaining dormant for a few weeks, meaning that people can contract and spread the disease without knowing it.

This disease is already is a major undertaking for world leaders and all signs point toward its continued growth. Instances like these can serve as quality, public lessons in crisis management and how leaders can effectively manage these situations.

Leadership and Crisis Management

In crisis situations, leaders are looked upon to mobilize a quick response plan to protect their unit. These situations require leaders to demonstrate both situational and self-awareness in order to be effective. They must be able to grasp the significance of the situation and the potential impact that it can have on their respective organizations3.

When a crisis emerges in your organization, you can use this checklist as a simple guide to ensure you are prepared3:

  • Understand what constitutes a crisis, designate a leader and be prepared to mobilize resources for a response.
  • Test the system by practicing response with your leaders, forcing them to make tough decisions and act quickly.
  • Recognize when to stop “business as usual” and take immediate action.
  • Control the flow of information.
    • Media, competitors and others will undoubtedly try to define the crisis.
  • Stay aware of the golden hour, or the first hour after a major event has occurred
    • Incremental delays create exponential greater harm

Some missteps that leaders can avoid include:

  • Ignoring/avoiding the problem
  • Lying
  • Assigning blame to others
How have world leaders responded to coronavirus?


China quickly became the epicenter of the outbreak due to their failure to immediately recognize and combat the issue. After a handful of initial cases emerged, Chinese leadership chose to silence doctors and others from speaking on the matter. The political choice of secrecy over transparency allowed COVID-19 to rapidly infect the major city of Wuhan and accelerate the issue toward a global pandemic.4

China has a confirmed 80,174 cases and 2,915 deaths.

South Korea

On February 13, South Korea had 23 confirmed cases. South Korean President Moon Jae-In predicted the virus would simply disappear2 over time. Instead of enacting an emergency response protocol, the country chose to ignore the emerging problem.

Less than three weeks later, South Korea now has 4,212 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and infections continue to grow rapidly.

United States

The United States’ response to coronavirus has been largely positive.

President Trump and the United States immediately implemented strict travel bans for affected countries.

Shortly after the news of an individual case in California, Trump began enacting crisis management protocols in the following ways5:

  • Assigning Vice President Mike Pence to head the coronavirus taskforce.
  • Rapidly mobilizing resources
    • Increased production and shipping of testing kits
    • Diagnostic training for medical units
  • Requesting over $2.5 billion in budgeting
  • Expanding testing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

It is unfortunate that this disease is wreaking havoc across tens of thousands of people and communities. What is truly disappointing, however, is the response by the leaders of South Korea and China to a crisis that threatens global health.

Time will tell if the response by President Trump and the United States will be enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus. However, the coronavirus outbreak can serve as a good case study for how leaders should respond to crisis situations.


1 https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200227-sitrep-38-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=9f98940c_2

2 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/27/world/asia/coronavirus-south-korea.html?auth=login-google

3 https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/10878570610637849/full/html

4 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/01/world/asia/china-coronavirus.html



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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.