The Coronavirus pandemic has stress tested national leaders. Few have come through unblemished. US President Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, have been roundly criticised. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has won praise while Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of UK, has not covered himself with glory.

Meanwhile the relatively little known Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, has shone through as an exceptional leader. I find her leadership worth narrating here.

Ingredients of Great Leadership
Great leadership is built on the ability to win trust. Trust is a product of authenticity, empathy, and competence. Are you genuine? Do you really feel for me? Can you steer us to safety, to a better place?

During this pandemic leaders have had to institute containment strategies that have caused people loss of income and hardships.

Gaining willing compliance from citizens has been the difficult part. To do that the leaders needed to demonstrate sincerity, empathy, and capability.

Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Premier demonstrated these qualities admirably in guiding her nation.

Jacinda’s Recipe
On 21st March she outlined four levels of containment strategies for individuals, organisations, and the State. With 52 cases and no deaths, New Zealand was in Level 2. She asked people to reduce contact, attempt to work differently and said schools would stay open unless warranted otherwise. She showed people a plan they understood.

On 23rd, she acknowledged community transmission had begun, and raised the nation to Level 3. She told the truth, no sugar coating. She demonstrated authenticity.

48 hours later on March 25, she added, New Zealand would move to Level 4 and complete lockdown. She allowed public transport and airlines to function for two days so that people could get back home before the lockdown. Her government announced income guarantees that would benefit individuals and businesses. She showed she cared.

Five weeks later, on 28 April she relaxed containment from Level 4 to 3, permitting a graded easing of lockdown and starting to put the economy back on track.

Competence, Sincerity, and Kindness
Between 21st March and 28th April she spoke to her people nearly every week, giving them information and holding out hope. Each time she spoke to her people on live television, she took questions from the Press. She dealt with public scrutiny with confidence, patience, and empathy. She held out hope even as she highlighted the dangers of the pandemic. In a telling mark of empathy, she made sure she got a call each time a person died.

The high level of compliance in New Zealand spurred rapid improvement and one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. After April 5, daily new cases declined steadily to low single digits by the end of April and continued so till the 4th week of May. She had led her nation out of serious trouble.

Not surprisingly, 88%* of Kiwis trust the Government to make the right decisions on the pandemic. 83%* citizens trust the government to deal successfully with national problems.

Jacinda Ardern demonstrated invaluable lessons for aspiring leaders: build trust by being authentic and empathetic. And show you have the competence. Truthfully.