New Zealand’s Prime Minister May Be the Most Effective Leader on the Planet
– The Atlantic, April 19 2020, Uri Friedman
Jacinda Ardern Makes Political Capital From Kindness
The coronavirus pandemic may be the largest test of political leadership the world has ever witnessed. Every leader on the planet is facing the same potential threat. Every leader is reacting differently, in his or her own style. And every leader will be judged by the results.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel embraces science. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro rejects it. U.S. President Donald Trump’s daily briefings are a circuslike spectacle, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds no regular briefings at all, even as he locks down 1.3 billion people.
Jacinda Ardern, the 39-year-old prime minister of New Zealand, is forging a path of her own. Her leadership style is one of empathy in a crisis that tempts people to fend for themselves. Her messages are clear, consistent, and somehow simultaneously sobering and soothing. And her approach isn’t just resonating with her people on an emotional level. It is also working remarkably well.
Through the WI Lens
On April 19, New Zealand ended its coronavirus lockdown, with just 19 deaths, a handful of new cases and an estimated transmission rate of 0.4. To all intents and purposes the country has beaten the virus – for now at least – with one of the lowest impacts in the developed world and has since been managing a controlled easing of restrictions, with an estimated one million people returning to work. Some were quick to point out that the country has an advantage courtesy of its isolated location, but in international circles, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s star has risen, as she’s been seen as stewarding her country through one of the smoothest and most effective responses in the world. This article examines the style in which she’s done it. Communication, empathy, informality: Ardern’s approach to talking to her people has been in striking contrast to that of leaders like Donald Trump, with his obsfucation, confrontation, outlandish claims and focus on blame. As New Zealand’s former prime minister Helen Clark notes, she’s taken tough decisions but has garnered enormous trust and goodwill through persuading Kiwis that she has their back. In so many ways, Ardern looks like the leader for a seismic global crisis, but it’s worth considering that many of the qualities she displays: empathy, competency, humility and advocating kindness, would serve any leader well in providing reassurance and comfort during many a lesser situation. And of course it’s no coincidence that Ardern’s government last year became the first in the world to create a budget for wellbeing, designed to counter such malign influences as mental illness, family violence and child poverty. Truly a new type of leader for a new era – anyone with leadership aspirations would be wise to study her.
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”
“All roads lead to a wellbeing anchor, whether that be economic/financial, physical, mental or emotional: all contribute to a progressive and inclusive cosmopolitan world. The answer should not be a choice of one or the other but of a joined up and compassionate solution for society, business and individuals.”
“The paradox is that we continue to do this in spite of recognising that striving to become ever-more productive is an intrinsically unhealthy behaviour, leading to stress and too often, a sense of failure.”
“The same broad-sweeping structural racism that enables police brutality against black Americans is also responsible for higher mortality among black Americans with Covid-19,” Maimuna Majumder, a Harvard epidemiologist working on the Covid-19 response, tells Vox.
The take-out from this? Wellbeing cannot exist at a more elevated level without our basic needs being met.