“The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
Seeing pictures of Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visiting the 7th Gymnasium of Athens in Pagrati, probably looks like business as usual for those who study politicians. Accompanied by Education Minister Niki Kerameus and Deputy Education Minister Sofia Zacharaki, Mr. Mitsotakis praised Greeks for pushing down the coronavirus curve, while cautioning there is more to be done. This was, as you’d expect, what most news outlets reported. But there’s a lot more to Mitsotakis than the camera lens catches. Let me explain.
The prime minister visited the school and conversed with teachers and students. He praised both for their doggedness and accomplishments but cautioned that an abundance of focus will be required still. The PM stressed that children need the balance that a program provides. Of course, this is what any politician in the world would do. Only every politician in the world did not snuff out a deadly virus with the unanimous support of his people. Think about this.
Tomorrow, Mr. Mitsotakis and members of his cabinet will unveil the government’s plan for reopening the country’s tourism market and for restarting the economy, after weeks of what most experts say was a very successful coronavirus lockdown. Many here on Crete are concerned about a flow of tourists now, and so am I. However, if you look at what the prime minister has managed these last two months, then a sequential reopening of the country makes more sense. Mitsotakis’ people put the care and expertise in the right places so far.
According to all the news, the key aspect of Mitsotakis’ economic efforts will be tourism since this sector is the country’s biggest revenue engine, a realm that brings in as much as 18-20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 183.22 billion euros ($200.3 billion). The pandemic has experts saying this sector could decline by as much as 80 percent in the absence of full international air traffic.
The core of the plan is to reboot tourism is to reopen Greece’s borders to travelers from across the European Union, and Israel, possibly as early as June 15th. And here’s where my concerns intersect those of everyday citizens. But, there’s something most of us did not know, that’s the procedures already put in place back in March.
“The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Before I continue, let me point out that these procedures the administration put in place were not some politically motivated publicity stunt. They were hammered out with the help of one of the world’s most imminent pathologists, Dr. Sotiris Tsiodras, Mitsotakis’ choice to lead the management of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 crisis for Greece. I’ve no space to get into Dr. Tsiodras’ qualifications here, but The New York Times described him as one of the “Heroes of the Coronavirus Era.”
As for Mitsotakis, he has been highly praised for his administration’s handling, so far, of an untenable health and economic situation. This Harvard Business Review report says:
“Mitsotakis has kept the population wary but not panicked, cajoling the notoriously independent-minded Greeks into a surprisingly high level of compliance with social distancing, shop closures, and other measures to contain the virus.”
Michael G. Jacobides goes on to say Mitsotakis’ efforts were even more impressive because he managed to gain the public’s trust when trusting officials is not in the DNA of Greeks. Jacobides goes on to praise the Greek PM for mobilizing and digitizing a cumbersome Greek bureaucracy in record time.
ABC’s James Longman tells a story of meeting with Culture Minister, Lena Mednoni, and of the Acropolis’ only patrons these last couple of months, the stray cats who watched brilliant sunsets. But the reporter goes on to describe the indescribable and monumental effort Mitsotakis’ administration has accomplished. Allow me this long quote about the traveler arrival and border procedure for Greece:
“Since March 20, every single person coming into Greece has been tested at the airport. The process is quick and efficient: you are escorted off the plane and asked to fill in your details on a tracing form. You are then taken into a booth in the arrivals lounge, where officials in PPE meet you to take a throat swab. After collecting your luggage, you board a bus that takes you to a specially designated hotel where you must remain until results come through the next day. If you are negative, you can go home, but you must still quarantine for 14 days.”
And that, my friends, is protecting your people. That is leadership facing the inconsolable possibility of societal and economic collapse and disaster. I urge you to read this story and discover that all news is not fake news and that leaders truly can still rise to the occasion. Of course, we will all still wait and see, but “so far so good” beats the heck out of total uncertainty.