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Ardern’s pandemic leadership conveys ‘respect for expertise’

Image: The White House, via Wikimedia Commons

Research paper analyses the approach of the NZ government during the coronavirus crisis

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has based her leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic on respect for expertise and helping people understand the measures required to control the virus, a leading academic has said.

Suze Wilson, a lecturer at Massey University’s business school, looked at the government’s response to the pandemic and the leadership model that informed and guided policy. Her findings are published online in the journal Leadership.

“Through close observation and analysis of the Ardern government’s approach, I firstly found that its highly effective leadership of the pandemic has as its core purpose the aim of minimising harm to lives and livelihoods,” she said in a university statement.

“This purpose has global relevance to all leaders involved in grappling with the effects of Covid-19. Adopting the aim of minimising harm to lives and livelihoods as one’s purpose gives leaders a guiding light to help navigate through the pandemic.”

Wilson said the NZ pandemic leadership model comprised “three key bundles of leadership practices driving the achievement of that purpose—being led by expertise, mobilising collective effort and enabling coping”.

“Being led by expertise means leaders accepting they aren’t subject matter experts on every aspect of what this pandemic involves. Hence, leaders must put ego aside and be willing to seek and listen to expert advice, follow the science and use facts and evidence to guide their decision-making.”

She said that mobilising collective effort involved informing, educating and uniting people to adopt those actions needed to minimise harm to lives and livelihoods.

“When communicating what’s being asked of people, leaders should pull no punches and provide clear direction. However, this must be balanced with a focus on explaining why these actions matter and conveying empathy for their disruptive effects, otherwise people will just feel like they’re being issued orders.”

Wilson said that helping people to cope with the pandemic restrictions required a leader who could help people build the knowledge and skills to respond.

“Fostering kindness also matters, as kindness helps to ease the distress the pandemic creates. Finally, leaders need to foster creative responses to the disruptive effects of the pandemic, both encouraging and role modelling new ways of carrying on with life and work in a pandemic.”