At a press conference on Friday, President Trump shared what sounded like very good news. Google would be launching a site to help people know whether or not they should be tested for Covid-19, and where they could find a testing facility. In the middle of a global pandemic, that was great news, and the stock markets responded accordingly.
"Google is helping to develop a website, it's going to be very quickly done, unlike websites in the past ... to determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location," said President Trump.
Except it wasn't true.
Not only did Google not know the president planned to make that announcement, but, in addition, the company wasn't working on such a site at all. Another Alphabet company was working on a similar site for health care workers in the San Francisco Bay Area, but there were no plans for it to be open to the general public, or for it to be available outside that area.
Now, after conversations with the White House, Google said it would work on a national website, but there is no timetable.
Google is partnering with the US Government in developing a nationwide website that includes information about COVID-19 symptoms, risk and testing information. (2/6)-- Google Communications (@Google_Comms) March 15, 2020
Despite the miscommunication, Google deserves credit for stepping up and agreeing to build a resource that could make a real impact on bending the curve in the right direction. There's a lesson here for every leader--two actually.
The first is that whether there's a global health crisis or not, as a leader, what you say matters. Even if you're not the president of the United States, you still have a responsibility for the people and organization you lead. Your team is depending on you to be transparent and truthful with them and prepare them for whatever circumstances they will encounter.
At a minimum, it's reasonable for people to expect that when they hear from their leader, they should be able to plan accordingly. In this case, the idea that there would be a resource to help them make important decisions about how the coronavirus is impacting their lives was a source of hope.
The second lesson is that being a leader means that your job is to do the right thing, even when it might cost you. That isn't true just of Google's agreeing to use its considerable resources and technology to build a website; it's also true of your business. Maybe that means paying your team for the next few weeks, even if they aren't able to work at full strength. Or, maybe it means that a school district that has closed for three weeks still finds a way to provide needed meals to students who depend on them for food.
By the way, doing the right thing, even when it's costly, is still the right thing. In the long run, the return on investment for doing the right thing is always positive. The trust you build with your team or your community in those moments matters, even if it can't be purely measured on the bottom line.