Featured case: Jacinda Ardern –
Leading New Zealand Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The case

whoWho – the protagonist

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand.


A country with just five million people and limited science resources compared to powerhouse nations like the UK and the US, New Zealand was widely praised for its response and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Prime Minister Ardern was widely acclaimed for her clarity and compassion, which resulted in 87% public approval for the lockdown, compared to 50% in the world’s richest countries.

Ardern’s decision to place New Zealand under a month-long lockdown on 25 March 2020, when the number of infections reached 50 cases a day, and putting in place a clear four-stage alert system, were crucial to the nation being declared virus-free on 22 June.

During the crisis, Ardern’s daily briefings with top officials and journalists were noted for being informative with supportive scientific data, and delivered in a non-aggressive manner. Her frequent Facebook Live chats with the public also proved a hit.


After more than five weeks, New Zealand moved to level three in April, and level two in mid-May. 17 days of no new cases saw the Government of New Zealand (Parliament Buildings house pictured) lift all COVID-19 restrictions and declare the nation virus-free.


An island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, New Zealand is the gateway to the South Pacific Islands and countries like Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

what nextKey quote

“People feel that Ardern doesn’t preach at them; she’s standing with them. There’s a high level of trust and confidence in her because of that empathy.” – Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand (pictured).

What next?

Shutting itself off from the rest of the world, it’s unsurprising that New Zealand’s economy was hit hard.

With tourism, New Zealand’s biggest export industry, literally closed, the country’s Treasury estimated a best-case scenario of a 13% unemployment rate.

With a GDP debt reaching 53.6% by 2023, how long does New Zealand isolate itself from the rest of the world?

Interested in finding out more?

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Jacinda Ardern – Leading New Zealand Through the COVID-19 Pandemic
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Teaching note
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The author


Jitesh Nair

Jitesh discusses Jacinda Ardern changing how we view our leaders, students connecting to her leadership style and much more.

Changing the status quo

Jitesh said: “The word ‘leader’ usually conjures up an image of powerful men for most of us. Leaders, especially a political or corporate leader, are synonymous with toughness, machoism and a larger-than-life image. Rule by logic is the default mantra.

Changing the status quo

“In such a prevailing scenario, Jacinda Ardern’s approach to managing a black swan event was a welcome change from the status quo approach to leadership.

“In writing this case I saw an opportunity to bring forth the importance and much needed impetus for a leadership model built around authenticity, transparency, and a humanistic approach.”

Maintaining the narrative

Jitesh continued: “One challenge was to keep the narrative of the case focused on Jacinda Ardern’s initiatives to manage the pandemic, and at the same time touch upon the role of the support she received from opposition party members and New Zealanders at large that led to her success.

“Writing the case also gave me an opportunity to showcase the importance and benefits of adopting the ‘natural personality’ of women the world over, who are labelled conservative in their outlook and generally tend to seek life meaning and social good in their decisions and actions.”

Rethinking the psychology of leadership

He added: “The key takeaway from this case is the opportunity to rethink the psychology of leadership as is deemed fit today. The case offers readers a robust model that can be used to handle risk or unforeseen situations – a model based on relationship and trust.”

Rethinking the psychology of leadership

Students’ surprise

Jitesh explained: “One of the initial reactions to the case was an element of surprise that a ‘womanly’ approach to managing such a crisis actually worked.

“Most of the students, being millennials, were able to connect to Jacinda Ardern’s leadership style since they felt that it was the ‘millennial way of leadership’ – tech savvy and at the same time being your natural self and doing things that fall within your value system rather than creating a facade.”

Learning from COVID-19

He concluded: “The pandemic has provided an opportunity for mankind to relook at the critical need for being in sync with the planet and its natural and wildlife resources.

“The situation also presents an opportunity to touch upon the interconnectedness of society and bring meaning to life.

“The crisis also offers business leaders and educators the opportunity to reboot their organisational and political systems and future-proof them for the uncertain road ahead.”

About the author

Jitesh Nair is a Research Faculty IBS Center for Management Research.
e jitesh@icmrindia.org


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