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Executive Education event outlines lessons of COVID-19 disruption

November 13, 2020

Catherine M. Gerard

Catherine M. Gerard

Sean O'Keefe

Sean O'Keefe

Plenty of questions surround the short- and long-term effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.  Catherine Gerard, associate director of Executive Education, offers one prediction: “There’s no doubt that we are not going back to the way it was. There will be a – quote unquote – new normal."

Gerard made the observation during a joint session of Executive Education’s core course, Managerial Leadership (PAI 895). She and University Professor Sean O’Keefe, both of whom teach the course, led a discussion with Executive Education students on how the global health crisis impacts learning and leadership. About 15 students attended the Oct. 27 event in-person; another 26 students participated via Zoom.

“This has been an incredible disruption,” O’Keefe said. “This disruptive change is having a global consequence.”

It’s also affected people’s daily routines, he said.

Participants cited numerous personal disruptions: teaching children at home, telework, lack of personal contact with professors and classmates, canceled travel, blurred work/home boundaries, and isolation.

New York’s quarantine requirement for many visitors to the state is “incredibly disruptive in a range of ways,” O’Keefe said.

The group also considered how navigating the coronavirus pandemic might be transformational for public sector leaders and organizations.


The shift to virtual meetings makes it easier for people with disabilities to participate, one student said. Increased use of technology may make people more efficient with time and resources, another said.

“We really get a measure of who are really leaders in the midst of a crisis and transformative development like this,” O’Keefe said. Leadership in crisis requires specific skills, he added.

Gerard noted that leaders do not always build on procedures and partnerships from one crisis to another. “Some people are not that optimistic that we’re going to learn substantially from this and be more ready next time than we were this time,” she said.

But significant crises – like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks – force behavioral and policy changes people may have previously resisted, O’Keefe said. He cited airport security as an example.

O’Keefe encouraged the group to consider the positive practices that might evolve from inconveniences the pandemic has created. If we’re not careful, “there are some things that are going to just kind of drift away. We’ll miss the opportunity to seize what was beneficial.”


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