7 Leadership Lessons Learned from Dr. Deborah Birx



Recently I watched a riveting interview with Dr. Deborah Birx, former leader of the White House Coronavirus Response Taskforce. Her way of dealing with a very challenging situation illustrated a number of vital leadership qualities, particularly needed in our fragile and fractured country today. To see the interview just click here. By the way, the lessons listed below are my observations not hers.

  1. Calm Under Pressure – When you’re in the public eye and how you appear is just as important as what you do, stay calm. Keep emotions, anger, disbelief, shock, etc. under control to maintain composure, professionalism and credibility. (For example, when the president states that he thinks injecting bleach in your body would be a good way to treat COVID-19, and then asks you for your opinion.)
  2. Stay the Course – Her credentials illustrate that she’s one of the most experienced and brilliant people on the face of the earth related to pandemic response. She also learned quickly that her advice was frequently discarded. But in spite of this, she persisted for months on end working in a culture full of deception, misdirection and misinformation. She didn’t give up on the fact that if she could be heard that it would make a difference and save thousands of lives.
  3. The Greater Good – She submitted herself to the entrenched authority and was willing to follow the “chain of command,” in spite of learning that some White House staffers were incompetent and motivated by self-interest over the good of the country. Yet, she also knew that if there was any chance that her expertise could make a difference, she would have to play by the White House rules of engagement.
  4. Measured Response – Almost every question asked during the interview provided an easy opportunity for her to “throw the president under the bus.” She did not. She listened to the questions, paused, and then provided what I consider to be helpful and thoughtful responses…continuing to focus on how to spread accurate and helpful information to curb the pandemic’s continued death march across America.
  5. Vulnerability – When asked about things that drifted into her personal life, she was transparent about how brutal this situation has been for her, her children and grandchildren. It was honest, emotional and without placing blame or making those with differences “the enemy.” The fact that she has received death threats and needs around-the-clock armed security speaks to the ugliness we’re capable of, and how easily some are swayed to believe fiction over fact.
  6. The Facts Matter – Her day-in and day-out response while having her reputation smeared and life threatened was to focus on the science and data to solve the pandemic, and then using all means at her disposal to communicate in various ways to those with the ability to affect change.
  7. The Stockdale Paradox – She exhibits the ability to clearly seek reality…to see the real challenges, facts, and people around her. She knew that people were editing and ignoring her expert advice, and yet did not give up. It would have been easy to just walk away. Yet, she did not give up hope. Her expertise, her determination, and focus on solid science were used in a way that is helping save lives.

If I were raising my son today, I’d encourage him to pay close attention to stellar leaders like Dr. Birx. We need more leaders like her. I have a serious request!

Please be on the lookout for young men and women who could develop into strong leaders. We desperately need more men and women with character, grit, critical thinking skills, faith, courage and the willingness to play the long-game (See page 63 in Tender Lions for more on the importance of the “long game.”). And them when you contact them, encourage them to consider pursuing a vocation in politics, law, education or church work.

The pillars of society need a renewed generation of leaders to serve, and your gentle guidance and mentoring might just tip the scales that cause these young leaders to choose a path of significance. Please consider my request. Keep going!

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Many of these blog entries are edited excerpts from Tender Lions: Building the Vital Relationship Between Father and Son

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