Do you think his friends and admirers called him 'The Fauch' in high school? Because there's just no way Anthony Fauci hasn’t always been cool.
My love for Dr. Fauci started early on in the pandemic — I watched the press conferences just to hear him, learn from him and then recite what he said to anyone who would listen to me afterward. In quarantine with my parents, my mom would scream from another room, “Fauci's on!” and I’d drop everything — my toothbrush, a Zoom call with my boss, a bowl of cherries — to run over to watch him. Sometimes I’d even try to impersonate him — doing my best gravelly New York accent — talking slowly and directly, devoid of most emotion and using layperson terminology to sub for everything Fauci really wants to say. At one point, my friends and I considered creating a “fans_of_fauci” Instagram handle but became concerned we’d attract too much political heat. I even ordered a sweatshirt screen-pressed with Fauci's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases headshot and a variety of Fauci-themed stickers and candles. By mid-April, I abruptly realized I hadn’t felt this fangirl since my Spice Girl days.
To me, Dr. Fauci represents a sort of James Dean archetypal character — like a Sam Elliott in Tombstone (odd reference) or a George Clooney in Ocean's 11 (probably more identifiable, should have led with that one). He’s almost unnaturally calm and completely in control. You’d trust him with your life (wait, we are), and he has that next-level foresight that, when it actually bears out, you become petrified as to what else he may know but has yet to reveal. Suffice it to say, I’d probably follow Dr. Fauci literally anywhere he’d politely suggest that I go.
I’m a social psychologist working in industry, so understanding “winning” qualities of leadership has always been a particular curiosity for me. How to get others to listen to you, love you or fear you, and ultimately respect you is a provocative topic — probably no more controversial than it is right now.
So, what can we learn from Dr. Fauci, our unwitting hero of 2020? Well, for one: facts, not flamboyance. Fauci speaks directly and candidly, and never hyperbolically. He asserts a quiet leadership — both in tone and humility — that exudes trustworthiness and strength and compels others to listen in voraciously. Second, know your subject solid, but don’t intimidate the less knowledgeable or misinformed. Meet your audience where they are, educate them on what they should know and use language they can understand. Next, repeat yourself — not too much so as to become annoying, but enough so that everyone has multiple opportunities to hear you, determine why they should care and retain your message. And lastly and perhaps most importantly, have a sort of subtle confidence (or, in Fauci’s case, a straight-up swagger) that shows you are accepting of, and unbothered by, those who disagree with you. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, even if they are very, very wrong.
My big fear is that, with the ultimate retreat of the virus (post-vaccine, in the year 2023, or who really knows), Dr. Fauci will return from whence he came like Emma Thompson’s Nanny McPhee who stoically proclaims, “When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go.” Part of the reason Fauci appeals to so many of us is because we were pretty much starved for his special style of leadership — not just across government, but possibly even at work and in our personal relationships. I am hopeful that even when we no longer need Dr. Fauci, what we’ve learned from him sticks with us for the long haul — and that we’re able to replicate it and spread it, like a virus.
Jennifer Rosner ’06 is marketing researcher within the health care industry. She studied psychology and political science at Northwestern.