Accountability and the Coronavirus Crisis

Usually, these articles are about accountable leadership in business settings. This week, though, I came across a news story that reminded me how vital accountability is outside of the office.

The whole nation, in fact the whole world, is in the grips of a major public health crisis: the rapid spread of the COVID2019 virus, popularly known as the coronavirus. This is no laughing matter. It is something we are all facing, and something we must all make responsible decisions about.

So. Wash your hands regularly? You already know that you are supposed to do that. Wash surfaces regularly? You know that, too. And, of course, if you find yourself quarantined by a qualified public health authority, you know that you should observe the quarantine until you are cleared to interact with others. These are all pretty much no-brainers. They all fall under the same basic commitment, a commitment so obvious that it does not even need to be stated in words: “It’s All of Us.”

Just like you would not drive on the wrong side of the road or let a toddler wander into a busy traffic intersection or leave open bottles of poison out where children can get at them, you would not break quarantine. Why not? Because once you reach an age where you are aware that you are part of something called the human race, you do not knowingly put other people at risk of their lives. We are all in this together. Right?

This is why the story of the St. Louis-area man who intentionally broke quarantine stands out as such a deep betrayal of trust.

The man, whose name has not been made public, is the father of the young woman who is the first confirmed case of COVID2019 in the state of Missouri. The entire family was ordered into quarantine by the local health department. Then this gentleman let you, me, and everyone else on the team called Humanity down.

“The patient’s father did not act consistently with the health department’s instructions,” Sam Page, a St. Louis County official, told members of the media. “Instead, last night he decided to take his other daughter to a school function.” That event was a school-sponsored father-daughter dance at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Clayton. Everyone at that event was needlessly put at risk as a result of this man’s pig-headed disregard for the health and safety of others.

This was a grave moral failure every bit as serious as driving drunk. And I know it was a reminder that you do not have to be someone’s boss to experience a total, catastrophic failure of accountability, one that literally puts life and well-being at risk. That father was not only not being an accountable member of the community but also not setting the right example for anyone in his family.

These are difficult times. Let’s all do our part not to make them any more difficult than they already are. Be accountable to the rest of the team called Humanity. Observe good hand cleaning hygiene, stay away from others if you feel ill, and, by all means, obey quarantine orders if you receive them. If you think any of this is silly, don’t say “It’s silly, and I’m not going to do that.” You don’t want to do it for yourself? Fine. Do it for the rest of us. Do it for everyone else who is trying to do the right thing. Recognize that you are part of something bigger than yourself. Accountability as a leader in any facet of life is always going to be a matter of keeping the commitment “It’s All of Us.”

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