‘Patient Zero’ Simulation – A Reflection on Active Leadership

The Patient Zero simulation thrust us into an ongoing zombie outbreak. We as a class represented the members of a decision-making governing body whose decisions directly impacted our nation’s handling of the outbreak. Over the course of the simulation, we were faced with five critical decisions. Of these five decisions, the simulation did its best to increase the moral consequences of each progressively. By this logic, you would think that decision 5 would have been the most difficult to make. Yet, this was not the case. In fact, I found decision 3 to be the most difficult. This was because of the complete ambiguity surrounding our choices. The decision revolved around choosing whether to release an untested vaccine to the public or to keep it off the streets. Yet, we knew nothing of the effects of the vaccine, nor whether it would harm or help patients. As a result, I felt like either decision I made was a shot in the dark. I couldn’t think of any justifications that prevented this from being a 50/50 choice. With decisions of higher moral consequence, I had some premonitions about them on a moral level when I first read the prompt, and I was then able to construct a framework of logic in my head for choosing a side. This wasn’t possible for decision 3. In fact, the choice was so difficult that I was still unsure if we made the right decision after our results were presented.

Overall, I’d say our team worked together effectively during this situation. Any conflict was handled in a civil and orderly way. First, we would each take time to give brief arguments supporting our preferred course of action. We then typically narrowed this down to the top two offerings. We then held an open discussion period for final thoughts regarding the two options, before holding a vote. The majority choice was the one we went with. This proved to be highly effective for minimizing unproductive conflict. The method also helped us to always emerge with a clear answer, which was definitely an advantage. Despite the method’s effectiveness, there were two flaws that I could see. Firstly, some members of the group are more introverted than others, and they preferred not to speak up as much during the deliberation period. This caused some valuable perspectives to go unheard. Secondly, there was an overwhelming amount of agreement about many of the issues. This prevented serious debate from occurring on many of the decision points, which may have limited the credibility of our decisions. More diversity of perspectives could help with this latter concern.

Adaptive leadership is all about flexibility. Leaders in the real world rarely face static situations. Oftentimes, problems are evolving, and they require leaders to evolve with them. Leaders need to adjust constantly to meet the needs of their team, and the situation at large. From my understanding, this process of adjusting to the circumstances is known as adaptive leadership. For the most part, I feel like refining adaptive leadership skills is critical to being a better leader overall. I agree that in many real-world situations, adaptive leadership is essential for the efficacy of leadership. Yet, at the same time, I feel like it’s important not to forget the value of plans. While it is crucial that a leader has the capability to be flexible, it is equally as important that a leader does all that they can to prepare ahead of time. For this reason, I believe that adaptive leadership is a key part of a great leader, but it is by no means the only major component.

One element of the debrief that I found highly interesting was the idea that humans naturally attempt to avoid problems that would require adaptation to solve. This is something that I had never given much thought to before, but, now that it’s mentioned, seems self-evident. In fact, I see this weakness in myself all the time. I feel like being cognoscente of my tendency to try to avoid problems that would require adaption is key to improving my adaptive leadership skills. This in turn will help me live a better life and be a better leader overall.

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