How leaders think about COVID impacts infection rates

Wednesday, December 1, 2021


Jennifer Griffith

Along with her coauthors (Kelsey Medeiros, Matthew Crayne, Jay Hardy, & Adam Damadzic), Jennifer Griffith's newly accepted manuscript, Leader sensemaking style in response to crisis: Consequences and insights from the COVID-19 pandemic", argues how leaders interpret problems matters a lot, in this case w/ respect to COVID infection rates.

Key findings from the paper include:
1. Pragmatic leaders, or those that favored educated, logical problem solving, performed best. "Leaders who adopted a sustained approach to pragmatic sensemaking, either at the onset of COVID-19 or later as case numbers increased, fared better regarding the number of COVID-19 cases in the long term than leaders who adopted others."
2. Leaders with a charismatic sensemaking approach, or those who maintained a positive attitude about the future, performed worse than pragmatic leaders. "In contrast, adoption of charismatic sensemaking styles resulted in observed increases in cumulative COVID-19 case rates."
3. Leaders shifted toward a pragmatic style as COVID-19 continued. "Our results also suggest that many leaders recognized the value of pragmatic responses to crisis, evidenced by a general shift toward pragmatic sensemaking styles as infection rates increased"
4. Leader sensemaking, or how leaders interpret problems and world events, is important! "Although transformational and transactional leadership approaches have received extensive attention and praise...our results suggest that neocharismatic leadership styles do not meaningfully differentiate between broader outcomes."

To sum it up, leader sensemaking predicts outcomes that matter. If we want to truly understand how our future leaders in public office and in the boardrooms will perform, then we must pay less attention to their flair, and more to how they process and interpret information.

Full citation: Medeiros, K. E., Crayne, M., Griffith, J. A., Hardy, J., & Damadzic, A. (accepted, 2021). Leader sensemaking style in response to crisis: Consequences and insights from the COVID-19 pandemic. Personality & Individual Differences.

A pre-print of the article can be found here