Pandemic leadership: Lessons from New Zealand’s approach to COVID-19

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The emergence of the novel coronavirus in late 2019 and its’ subsequent global spread created two core challenges for leaders. Firstly, both elected and appointed leaders needed to make decisions about how to tackle the virus under conditions marked by urgency, uncertainty, complexity and with high-stakes impacts. Secondly, efforts to limit the spread of the virus involved a heavy reliance on securing voluntary compliance from the community at large, thus necessitating effective communication by both elected and appointed leaders to secure that buy-in.

This Case Study examines the leadership approach to COVID-19 adopted by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, focused on the first wave of the outbreak in early 2020. That approach was characterised by science-led and timely decision-making, underpinned by strategic clarity about the nature of the challenges being faced and a focus on protecting lives and livelihoods as key guiding principles.

Please note this case has a Teaching Note associated with it. To access a copy, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with a request and citing the title.

  • Authors: Dr Suze Wilson
  • Published Date: 16 March 2021
  • Author Institution: School of Management/ Executive Development, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
  • Featured Content Length: 11
  • Content Length: 11
  • Product Type: One-part case

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.