Leadership is tested during times of crisis. The present pandemic is seeing it happen across the world. Many unexpected parts of the world have shown better corona control than those expected of better performance. Many wise men have said before that empathy, not disdain, separates great leaders from the rest. This behavioral aspect is what present New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden is all about. The human touch she has exhibited in her policies and approach puts her in the same league as that of current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Crisis management involves measures that are essential for swift and effective control. The ability to take these steps quickly, effectively, and humanly puts leaders in different classes. Since time immemorial, leadership only decides whether the situation will deteriorate, stays the same, or becomes better than before. Spirited debate is going on between management gurus and political scientists of the world to determine the factors which matter in better management of crisis like the present pandemic. It requires more profound research.
Many thinkers and management gurus agree that recognition, decisiveness, communication, visible action, and apolitical mode form the central core of any crisis management story. Jacinda Arden, in particular, follows it well; hence it can be referred to as “Jacindaism” or her way of crisis management.
The first step undoubtedly is the recognition of the crisis. Quick solutions can be planned once the crisis is recognized and well defined. Sugarcoating or even failing to acknowledge the crisis defers the resolution. Grandstand often taken by politicians proves detrimental in the end. The best example is of two politicians in Italy who displayed their handshake in public, trying to play down the threat of COVID19. Later one of them himself got diagnosed with COVID19. Now we know that all these theatrics cost Italy heavily. Indifferent approach of Brazil President is there for everyone to see. Latin American nation was shocked at his reply when the press grilled him about increasing deaths in the country. Quick recognition results in preparation. Moon Jae-in of South Korea amply demonstrated it. It was reported that South Korea stockpiled testing kits and had enhanced its testing capability to a considerable level before infection arrived at its shores. Jacinda was quick to recognize and go for total lockdown and elimination of COVID19. Unlike other world leaders, she was open to media questioning of her decisions. Instead of enforcing compliance, the focus was on motivation to complete the task.
During crises like the present pandemic, timing is the key. Decisions taken well in time help contain things to a manageable level. Most political leaders are shy of bold choices for good politics, while others give confusing messages to manage the aftermath. It was visible in Brazil and Pakistan, where federal and state authorities were not on the same page regarding lockdown. On the other hand, Jacinda and Moon Jai-in were quick to announce lockdown and make other preparations. Jacinda explained well the importance and necessity of lockdown in the press conference with the belief that masses should be aware of seriousness to have maximum cooperation.
Political leadership has to relentlessly communicate to make general masses feel that they are in safe hands. Jacinda performed well on this both in the current pandemic and during Christchurch shootings. The message should be loud and clear that the leader is in control of the situation, lest it promotes distrust and induces panic. She successfully struck the right chord with the Muslim community when she addressed the nation with a black scarf on head after Christchurch attack. Her famous sentence of addressing the attacker directly “you chose us, but we reject you out rightly” was unprecedented. In the current lockdown, a vital measure that mattered was enhancing the comfort level of the masses. Jacinda Arden did it well by doing many Facebook live sessions. This act was very reassuring for everybody in New Zealand. She was successful in identifying herself with everyone, which resulted in the gradual melting of every trace of resistance for the lockdown. Her openness towards questions made everyone comfortable with the feeling of being looked after. The initial explanation took place two days before the full lockdown came. It allowed people to make sense of what was happening and the reasons behind it.
Corinthians principle states that one should not only do right but also appear doing right. It merely means meaningful action should be visible on the ground. Positivity thus created keeps panic under check and solidifies the trust. Promises made to people should be kept, as Justin Trudeau of Canada did in the present pandemic.
Effective lockdown, testing, and tracing mechanisms were visible in full potential in South Korea and Vietnam.
Jacinda took the reassurance to the Muslim community after Christchurch shootings to a new level by changing the gun laws. She also underlined additional security measures to prevent such tragedies in the future.
Not every time is a good time for politics. Politics should take a back seat while crisis management is going on because of humanitarian concerns. Unfortunately, some leaders use the crisis to consolidate their position or to promote their ideological agenda. The best example is Victor Orban of Hungary.
The most important thing for people during the crisis is to feel that their leader is in control, and they are also seen and heard. It is not difficult for the public to digest the difficult situation, but they are highly negative about ambiguity and lack of transparency. Compassion is essential; hence should be visible in words and action. No doubt that Jacinda Ardern has turned out to be a role model for crisis management in a humane way. One can sincerely hope that Jacindaism model of crisis management gets replicated everywhere and is there to stay.
Nadeem Khan is an author and speaker based in Toronto. Email: Nadeemist@hotmail.com.