If you want a lesson on effective and ineffective leadership, then look no further than how some nations leaders have tackled the pandemic…

New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern described Covid as “Our problem.” She set levels of alert that everybody understood and could easily articulate to each other. She took personal responsibility for the tough decisions that she made but brought to life her promises if people delivered. “I will get you back your coffee.” The population bought into the process so much that they policed each other. There was a real sense of ‘we are all in this together.’ Even when the country was virtually Covid free she remained very honest. “We are nowhere near the end.” As we speak, the borders to NZ are closed to non-citizens while systems are put in place for safe opening.

In the UK, Boris Johnson declared Covid to be “The problem.” Levels of alert were produced that nobody seemed to understand. The message was that we will follow the science and daily briefings were created with ever complex statistical slides. The tv ratings showed a steady decline in daily briefing viewing as people literally switched off. Strong action of lockdown was put in place for all. However, when this was breached by senior government officials, no action was taken making the good citizen wonder whether their own discipline mattered that much. A lack of a GB wide strategy has caused chaos with overseas travel being acceptable from some airports and not others and folk sneaking across country boundaries for staycation purposes. Meanwhile the government rollout yet another trio of instruction. “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives.” The leadership admits that they don’t know when this will end, “sometime next year”

In the USA, Donald Trump blamed the virus on somebody else and declared it “The China virus.” In the beginning, the leadership went into denial and said it will not come to America. “There are 15 cases, and there will soon be none.” When the virus really started to take hold, the leadership passed the ownership of the problem to the regions (states) with zero central federal policy. When they eventually attempted to buy ventilators and protective wear, the states ended up in bidding wars in order to secure stock and consequently, prices escalated. Daily briefings on national tv were implemented and then scrapped when the leader couldn’t handle tough questions. The leadership has continued in denial, is blaming everyone but themselves, and have turned it into a political issue. Where there has been any glimmer of good news, the leader has claimed personal success. Where there is no good news, success has been fabricated. Meanwhile the infections spiral out of control and the death rate is the highest in the world. However, the leadership is very confident that “there is light at the end of the tunnel.” (I suspect it is a train coming the other way)

So ask yourself, “Who would you rather work for?”

Written by Alistair Forbes, Partner at Praesta Partners

Praesta Partners LLP is a team of experienced senior executives offering bespoke executive coaching & consulting services to boards and professionals worldwide.

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