The coronavirus pandemic might be the most substantial test of political leadership for the world. Many developed and developing nations are struggling due to poor style of leadership and management. Every leader is reacting differently according to him/her. And will be judged by the results. When some of the biggest economies were struggling to flatten the curve, Jacinda Ardern’s leadership managed to eradicate the virus in New Zealand.
Just 12 months ago, she attracted plaudits for her response to the Christchurch Mosque Shooting, refusing to allow the politics of hatred to flourish and refusing even to mention the perpetrator’s name. And now she is receiving appreciation globally for her effective leadership. Effective leadership involves healthy decision making, regular public engagement, and empathy with its people. Jacinda proved herself with all the three.
On March 23, she took a big decision for a countrywide lockdown in New Zealand when the infected tolls were just 102. Everything was shut closed except for some ‘essential services’. The announcement was made during a press conference with the help of well-crafted speech, followed by adequate time for media questions. “The worst-case scenario is simply intolerable, it would represent the greatest loss of New Zealanders’ lives in our history, and I will not take that chance,” she said.
In contrast, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pre-recorded his March 24 lockdown announcement, offering no chance for questions from the media, while framing the situation as an “instruction” from the government, coupled with a strong emphasis on enforcement measures. Where Jacinda’s approach was a blend of direction, empathy, and meaning-making, Boris’s was that of compliance.
The woman knows the importance of a leader’s regular interactions with its people. She held short Facebook Live sessions and daily televised briefings to interact with people, answer questions, and help them have faith. Sitting in the bedroom, wearing a comfy sweatshirt, and clearing people’s doubts, keeping it both informal and informative, set new standards for leadership.
New Zealand, the only western country with an elimination goal adopted the level 4 approach. Ardern said: “Stay home. If you are not at work, school, exercising or getting essentials, then you must be at home, the same as a level 4.” The management during the pandemic was exemplary. International borders were closed. COVID-19 testing was widespread. The health system was not overloaded, and just 22 people died out of a population of five million. Indeed, a poll by the market-research firm Colmar Brunton in early April found that 88 percent of New Zealanders trusted the government to make the right decisions about addressing COVID-19, and 84 percent approved of the government’s response to the pandemic, both higher than what the company found in the world’s seven largest advanced economies, including the United States. New Zealand citizens came to support the government’s policies even in economic pain. She regulated distress by developing a transparent framework for decision-making – the government’s alert level framework – allowing people to make sense of what is happening and why; different from what other nations adopted during the pandemic.
It was also because of Ardern’s empathetic speeches that the citizens instilled faith in the government. Her messages were clear, consistent, and simultaneously sobering and soothing. And her approach resonated with her people on an emotional level. She introduced essential concepts, such as thinking of “the people [who] will be in your life consistently over this period of time” as your “bubble” and “acting as though you already have COVID-19” toward those outsides of your bubble. She explained policies with practical examples: People needed to stay local because what if they drove off to some remote destination and their car broke down? She also said that she knows as a parent that it’s tough to avoid playgrounds, but the virus can live on surfaces for 72 hours. Resilience, pragmatism, benevolence, trust in collective common sense, mutual aid and humility is what makes Jacinda Ardern stand out. During a recent press conference, when a journalist forgot the question he wanted to ask, she said that she’s worried if he’s getting enough sleep; unlike President Trump whose agitation and frustration with the press has been quite prominent. Actor and TV presenter Whoopi Goldberg publicly praised Ardern calling her a “voice of reason which has taken decisive action”.The New York Times editorial compared the world leaders who made quick actions to those who did not. Ardern was seen as one leader who acted early and calmly, the writers said.
Jacinda’s excellent leadership made the country’s goal come true when on June 8, it officially announced NZ to be the first COVID-19 free country. It has returned to pre-pandemic normality. For now, everyone entering the country will continue to be tested and quarantined. Numerous lives saved as a result of sensational leadership. When Ariana Grande said ‘God is a woman’, millions felt it in NZ years later.
Image Source – The Guardian