Case Study - Jacinda Ardern-Leading New Zealand through the Covid-19 Pandemic

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Introduction

It is claimed that COVID-19 pandemic was the major trial of leadership of politicians and government officials all over the world (Friedman, 2020). During this time, one of the most prominent figures was that of Jacinda Ardern. She gained this popularity due to her skills, leadership style, and collaborative and empathetic approach in handling the pandemic crisis, which thus led her to put New Zealand on the track for success in battling the pandemic (Tyner & Jalalzai, 2022). This essay is focused on examining the approach adopted by Jacinda, as well as how this led to the successful overcoming of the pandemic and its related crisis. This essay initially examines the impacts of a global pandemic on a nation, followed by how Jacinda overcame this impact by displaying her leadership traits and qualities. This essay then explores the concept of crisis communication, which is followed by how Ardern utilized this strategy in overcoming crisis in her homeland. Furthermore, this essay also examines the admirable personality traits of Jacinda, a reflection on whether her style of handling a pandemic would be followed, and then concluding with a concise summary of the key points discussed.

Main body

The outbreak of the coronavirus, called Covid 19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) (Zanke et al., 2020). The infection was initiated in China and spread all over the world. Initially, it caused many health impacts and increased the morbidity and mortality rates. It affected people’s immunity and caused significant increase in the death rates, all over the world (Shang et al. 2021). But the pandemic did not limit to human lives; it had a direct and indirect impact on global economic conditions (Barua, 2020). Also, there is empirical evidence that suggests that pandemic situation has created political tension and social unrest, especially in weak nations or nations that resisted change (Shang et al. 2021). According to Lenzen et al. (2020), pandemic had social affects that resulted in labor market shocks and impacted the nature of jobs and income of people. Additionally, it also had environmental impacts, as it reduced the greenhouse gas and increased the air pollution, which hindered transportation and trade and caused macroeconomic affects (Lenzen et al. 2020).

Additionally, pandemic affected the macroeconomic environment, as it caused decline in tax revenues, and increased the expenditures that caused fiscal stress in almost all countries of the world (Shang et al. 2021). Furthermore, these unprecedent events have caused severe disruptions in supply chain and declined the economic growth of nations and caused many socio-economic implications (Shang et al. 2021). Governments, all over the world implemented strict measures, like lockdowns, social distancing and remote working schemes to control the spread of the virus, resulting in reduced economic and social activity in the countries (Belmechri, 2021).  The Governments response of the globalized economies were extraordinary and quick. In 2020, many nations modified their fiscal and monetary policies, ensuring the flow of credit and reestablishing health policies. While, in the second phase the governments focused on policies of developing and purchasing vaccines and took economic measures to provide sustainable household income for people (Jackson et al. 2021). This essay examines economic fallouts faced by New Zealand and how its leader and government responded in the crisis’s situation.

New Zealand recorded 1,154 confirmed cases and 22 deaths from Covid-19 since February till the time the lockdown was lifted (case study). However, Jacinda Ardern (prime Minister) has been praised for handling the crisis well, as it was a collective effort of government, public-health institutions, opposition politicians, and New Zealanders (natives) as a whole, who had been following all the the social-distancing protocols and other restrictions. Role of leadership is not limited to organization but it is also essential for a political or critical situation in country. The New Zealand’s government responded promptly to manage the crises situation of Covid 19, which took different phases (Wilson, 2020). Initially, it adopted a ‘precautionary approach’ and when more cases were spotted in New Zealand the government moved to next phase of “Alert System” and so on. To manage these phases, the country required a novel leadership model and style (Wilson, 2020). 

According to (Pope, 2020), empathic leadership is required to manage crises. For example, in Covid 19 pandemic era, leaders showing empathy through-out the crises period were recognized to be more effective. Similarly, Arden’s leadership can be described as an empathic leadership style, where leader focused on collaborative and inclusive approach and on the people of the country (Kumar, 2023). According to Wilson (2020), Arden responded to crises situation of Covid by using three approaches, which focused on meaning-making and empathy, to motivate the followers. Firstly, she directed the New Zealanders to stay home to save lives and made it a shared goal and mission and the purpose was to save lives (ANZSOG, 2022). Similarly, she used television for briefing and conducted regular Facebook live session to support her people to survive in the change and crisis situation (Wilson, 2020). Lastly, she persuaded people to achieve a “collective good”, which made the people and nation to respond and fight pandemic faster, than many other nations (ANZSOG, 2022). This real-life case shows the importance of emphatic approach in leadership.

Empathy is the ability to sense the emotions of others and leaders needs to be empathetic to understand the emotions of the surrounding people (Ivany, 2019). Empathy can be portrayed at different stages like: caring for others, understanding people’s perceptions and experiences. In times of pandemic, people faced a lot of emotional turmoil, where the role of empathic leaders comes to motivate them, enable survival, and fight the crises period (Linvill & Onosu, 2023). Hence, an empathic approach in leadership is essential for creating a successful and productive environment and manage different problems and crises situation (Roe, 2020). An empathic approach allows effective communication, where leaders communicate regularly, to understand the needs and feelings of their team members, build trust, encourage participation and foster collaboration to achieve shared goals, like Arden did (Bhalla, 2023; Roe, 2020). In case of crises, proactive, quick and regular communication is important. Therefore, crises communication is a strategic approach, used to correspond and communicate with the stakeholders, including people and organizations during a disruptive period (Sellnow, & Seeger, 2021). 

Leaders need to be aware of importance of crises communication and should acquire specific skills to prepare, navigate and manage the critical situation (Harwati, 2013). In crises period, leaders need to adopt a crises leadership style, which brings immediate change action in belief goals, behavior and outcomes. In order to communicate effectively, the leaders need to communicate frequently and effectively, in order to communicate the key objectives, timeline and purpose to the people and respond collectively to crises situations, like Covid 19 (Watkins, & Walker, 2021). According to (Watkins & Walker, 2021), political and social leaders have to adopt crises communication in disruptive times. The communication is essential to connect with internal and external stakeholders, both. Furthermore, effective crises communication is essential for company’s reputation, increase public and stakeholder trust and engage the stakeholders. Also, it is an essential tool to control any damage, like false rumors in and outside the company and requires a prompt action by the leader, using different mediums like: social media, website, television, etc. Similarly, it is essential to boost employee morale and confidence and earn a competitive edge in the market, by providing timely information via social media, press releases, talk-shows, tweets, etc. (Abbas, 2023). This is what Jacinda Ardern aimed to do.

Jacinda Ardern handled the COVID 19 pandemic and its associated crisis exceptionally well. There are a number of reasons why this is true. The first reason is that Jacinda adopted an approach that is coined as ‘go hard’, which involved a strict lockdown at an early stage that would prevent the spread of the virus. Jamieson (2020), claims that ‘go hard, go early’ was much more than a sound bite, rather, it was the most appropriate approach that Jacinda’s government could take to reduce the virus spread. McGuire et al. (2020), also add to this claim by stating that Jacinda managed the crisis in steps, the first being signal detection and the second that was aimed at preparation and prevention. The steps taken included imposition of restrictions at New Zealand’s borders, community support for vulnerable population, increase in public health messaging, 14-week ban on cruise ships, cessation of mass gatherings, alongside wage subsidy and support for business continuity. This showed that Jacinda managed the crises strategically by adopting the role of a leader and practicing decisiveness and open communication (McGuire et al., 2020).

Another strategy that Jacinda adopted in managing the crises was to utilize her empathetic communication style and guide the public through the government strategy that they had devised (Saccà & Selva, 2021). Jacinda employed Facebook Live to communicate with the people of New Zealand, which was an effective method to eliminate any hierarchal feelings, and also establish unity and solidarity amongst all (Martin‐Anatias, 2021). Moreover, Ardern established close relations with her people through these live chats, acknowledged their mental health and well-being, and made herself approachable and available to the concerns of her people despite her busy schedule (Huang, 2021). Through this strategy, she not only managed the crisis of the pandemic, but also alleviated the distress of her people by practicing compassion (Saccà & Selva, 2021). Since Jacinda had prior experience in managing crisis due to the Christchurch mosque attack, she managed this crisis through an open, straightforward, honest and evidence-based approach and communicated with the people with kindness and compassion, thereby uniting and motivating them (Beattie & Priestley, 2021).

            Jacinda Ardern had a number of personality traits that made her so well-liked and famous amongst the people of New Zealand.          These traits also enabled her to manage the pandemic promptly and ensure the safety and well-being of her people. The first admirable trait that Ardern portrayed was that of leadership, alongside the ethics of care and compassion (Jong, 2020). Through these traits, she was able to make decisions in the best interest of her people and implement strict measures that would prevent the spread of the virus. The impact of this trait could be observed when the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on June 08, 2020. Moreover, another personality trait that enabled Jacinda to take care of the people of New Zealand was that of empathy and transparency (Craig, 2021). As per research, it was seen that Ardern encouraged kindness and made recommendations to reach out to new mothers so that they do not feel isolated during these tough times (Llopis-García & Pérez-Sobrino, 2020). The impact of this trait led to a sense of unity, trust and encouragement amongst the people of the region, thereby eliminating the mental health impacts which were weighing down on them.

            Another admirable personality trait that Ardern portrayed was that of making decisions based on evidences and in collaboration with other government institutions and parties. McGuire et al. (2020), explains this personality trait by stating that Ardern was critically prepared and took her information from scientific sources, which showcased in her decisions. Moreover, Ardern was focused on arranging functional resources that were sufficient for the people to survive during the lockdown duration. By collaborating with the public health centers, NGOs and governmental bodies, Ardern was able to bring all the people under a single roof and then implement crisis control to manage the impacts of the pandemic. Through all these times, Jacinda was able to practice compassionate leadership, care (Proverbs et al., 2021), empathy and kindness (Craig, 2021), and close ties with communities and the government to ensure the best outcomes for the people of New Zealand (Ardern, 2019).

Examining Jacinda’s methodology of handling the crisis, it can be observed that she used a number of successful strategies and approaches that led to favorable outcomes for her people. The first strategy that I myself would also adopt is taking evidence-based measures that would prevent the widespread of the virus and ensure the safety of the people. Jacinda was able to alter the behavior of the people and also establish social norms in New Zealand’s’ ‘team of five million’ through her evidence-based strategies like Facebook Live broadcasts, daily briefings, and open and transparent communications (McGuire et al., 2020). I too would adopt this successful ‘go hard’ approach to handle any similar crisis. Another strategy that I would adopt from Jacinda is that of practicing empathy, compassion and care for the people of New Zealand. Jacinda understood the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of the people, especially the vulnerable population. Long et al. (2020), stated that Jacinda garnered national as well as international approval and praise due to her empathetic tone, her transparent communications, and the way she built the public confidence in herself by being available for her people. Therefore, as a leader, during a similar pandemic, I too would ensure that I am empathetic, compassionate, and worthy of gaining the trust of my people.

Jacinda handled the crisis of the pandemic fairly well, as she understood the need of the time, collaborated with the citizens and the governmental organizations, and implemented a lockdown that was in the best interest of the people. Moreover, she was also concerned about the mental health and well-being of the people, which is why she made herself available to them despite her busy schedule. These steps were highly appropriate in managing the crisis and I too would implement on these very steps for such favorable outcomes. But one thing that I would keep in mind is the availability of healthcare infrastructure and housing, alongside the provision of resources to the people under lockdown so that they do not have to face difficulty in earning for their housing and livelihood. Another aspect that I would approach differently is the creation of a hotline number where people can raise concerns or ask for help of any sort. Such a hotline would be extremely beneficial in giving the people a chance to voice their requirements, and fulfilling the needs of the population. Overall, I would make these adjustments and follow through with Jacinda’s approach.

Conclusion

            Concluding this essay, the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact has been examined globally, but with special attention to New Zealand. Under the leadership of Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand was able to combat the pandemic in a strategically successful manner, which has been examined in depth in this essay. Light has been shed on the leadership style of Jacinda, and how her empathetic, compassionate and transparent approach enabled crisis management and aversion. This essay has also assessed crisis communication, and its importance on leadership. Moreover, the complete strategy for crisis management has also been examined, which is followed by a discussion on the personality traits of Jacinda that enabled her to get rid of COVID-19 from her homeland sooner than any region of the world. The essay has concluded with a reflection as to how I would manage a similar pandemic if I were placed in a similar leadership position. Overall, this essay has provided valuable information on how crises like the pandemic are handled and what core skills and traits are required in order to be successful.

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