Jacinda Ardern has been praised around the world for her response to the Christchurch mosque shootings last March. Recently, Time magazine put the Prime Minister on its cover, praising her leadership during the crisis in Christchurch.
How has the Prime Minister performed during the coronavirus crisis?
The crisis, which started in China, has spread to countries around the world including South Korea, Iran and Italy. Thousands of people have become infected by the virus, and countries have taken steps to try to prevent the crisis from spreading. For example, many countries have cancelled flights from China and banned Chinese residents from visiting their countries.
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The coronavirus has also had a negative impact on the global economy, with the tourism industry, tertiary education, and exports to China hit particularly hard.
We ask our experts for their views on the performance of the Prime Minister in managing the coronavirus crisis:
Dallas Gurney, Managing Director, Drum Agency in Auckland
Leadership during a disaster is easy. Relatively speaking.
Yes, big calls are needed. Important ones – resourcing the response, how to bring together a grieving nation followed closely by a plan so it can't happen again.
The stakes are high and if you muck it up you suffer the consequences, as Scott Morrison found out after his pitiful response to the Australian bushfires.
But when disaster strikes, the prime minister has an advantage – a captive audience. We look to her for cues – how to feel, what to say and what it all means. A good leader thrives at these times, as Jacinda Ardern did following the Christchurch attacks.
After a disaster we also understand things must change. From gun laws (March 15) to workplace safety regulations (Pike River) there's an immediate public mandate, appetite even, to fix things we'd have otherwise sat on for decades.
"Never let a good crisis go to waste," Churchill apparently said.
What's much, much harder is leading during an evolving crisis. A slow burn, like coronavirus.
The lack of information out of China would've made initial decisions difficult.
Despite this, the government has been slow. As Professor Michael Baker from Otago University said, we are complacent. A 14-day self-imposed isolation does not cut it. I would've popped to the bottle shop by day four.
Ardern's Government knows coronavirus is a crisis we cannot see. It started in a far-off place, happening to people we do not know. A more inconvenient response would be called an over-reaction. The economic consequence would also be of concern.
We are ranked 35th globally for pandemic preparedness. Sadly, the Samoan measles outbreak is an example of what can happen to an island population ravaged by disease.
Leadership during a disaster is easy. Leading when we can't see the crisis coming, that's hard.
Petra Theunissen, Associate Professor of Public Relations at AUT
Ardern ticks the boxes of a charismatic, effective crisis leader who focuses on aligning her messages with her stakeholders' needs. She has, to date, communicated regularly and empathetically about what's happening, what the Government is doing to ensure the safety of its stakeholders and protect their interests. This is what we refer to in crisis leadership as being present.
During a crisis the population looks towards their leaders to help them make sense of it and how they should respond. They want to feel protected and believe that the crisis will pass. Ardern seems to intuitively react to these needs. Her messages show that she understands the crisis and its impact on New Zealanders: financially, politically and personally. This is in line with what we expect from a good crisis leader.
Characteristic of her communication style, she is transparent about the crisis. She focuses on the facts and is forthcoming with information; she also doesn't hesitate to acknowledge if she doesn't know, such as the long-term impact of Covid-19 on the economy. This is where many leaders fail in their crisis communication – because the facts aren't available, they're hesitant to communicate, which adds to the uncertainty, fuels misinformation and heightens emotional responses.
Interestingly, she has already signalled that Covid-19 may reach New Zealand shores but has focused on outlining how the Government has prepared for the event.
Ardern's ability to keep her ego in check when communicating with stakeholders is a skill that sets her apart from many other global leaders. Not only is it a characteristic of a good crisis leader but it's typical of her communication style. She's unpretentious and compassionate in her communication, and as we already know, she balances facts and concern for others well in her messages. In a nutshell, her communication approach demonstrates good crisis leadership.
- Daniel Laufer, PhD, MBA, is a global expert on crisis management and Associate Professor at Victoria University of Wellington. He has previously provided commentary for the Wall Street Journal on best practices in crisis management.