It is not easy to know what leadership looks like in the midst of the chaos and confusion that is COVID-19.

There are a variety of leadership styles currently in the public eye that extend across a range from denial, aggressive belligerence and ignorance all the way to gracious steadiness and wisdom.

As communities seek to navigate these difficult days, an unlikely model of leadership has emerged in the Province of British Columbia, Canada where I live. Her name is Bonnie Henry.

Wikipedia describes Dr. Henry as

a Canadian physician who is the Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia. She is a specialist in public health and preventive medicine.

This does not exactly sound like a person who is likely to become a media darling and a superstar with a growing fan club. But, in the unlikely world of COVID-19, Dr. Henry’s star has increasingly risen as she stands before the media scrum giving media briefings alongside Provincial Minister of Health.

There are a number of qualities that seem to characterize Dr. Henry that make her, at least in her public persona, an enviable model of effective leadership in a time of turmoil:

1. She appears unflappable. Dr. Henry is always calm and measured in her responses. Despite standing in the face of a world situation that is creating terror for many, Dr. Henry refuses to give in to panic. She does not overreact or get caught up in drama. She stands steady before the podium without any obvious demonstration of agitation.

2. She presents with a beautiful gentle manner. She is never aggressive or defensive. Perhaps she does at home, but it is almost impossible to imagine Dr. Bonnie Henry ever shouting. Her tone is always moderate and balanced.

3. She treats everyone with respect. In spite of occasionally receiving ridiculous questions, or being asked the same question over and over, she always gives the question whatever amount of time it takes to answer thoroughly. She responds to all questions as if each was equally valid and worthy of her time. She never talks down to anyone.

4. She listens well, paying close attention and waiting until the question has been completely articulated and asking questions of her own for clarification.

5. From whatever a complete lay person can discern on the outside, Dr. Henry seems to be deeply committed to being as fully honest and open as possible with the general public. She relays information as it presents in the moment and never claims greater knowledge than she has. She does not pretend that she has answers or solutions that she knows are simply not available to anyone at this time. She is willing to say, “We just don’t know with the available information we have at this time”.

6. She is obviously well-informed. She knows her subject and commits to finding answers if she is not entirely sure how to respond.

7. In spite of a flashy array of spectacular footwear and impressive necklaces, she does not give the impression of having any need to be the star. She does not seek to dominate.

8. She seems to be genuinely respectful of her colleagues and shares the podium readily with Adrian Dix. She is not working in isolation. She is clearly supported by a staff she respects and trusts.

9. She is willing to be quite human. She has joked about herself and been honest about her own struggle to navigate this difficult terrain.

10. She appears to be deeply compassionate. It feels as if Dr. Henry genuinely cares, not just about getting this right, but about the lives of all people, especially those most profoundly impacted by the unsettling circumstances of this time.

Dr. Henry has helped create an environment of trust and confidence that situates our community to navigate as well as possible this worldwide crisis. Her leadership skills have made it possible for Dr. Henry to garner deep support for the difficult decisions she has had to make and the rigorous social measures she has mandated. Her leadership has won her widespread affection and deep respect from virtually all sectors of our community.