A Masterclass in Crisis Leadership




An Example of What Good Looks Like

In the past two Sensemakers we discussed the potency of compassion for self and others as a source of advantage for leaders. This week we’re taking a look at a case study of a leader whose application of this in both her actions and communication has led to one of the world’s first victories against COVID-19.


A Masterclass in Crisis Leadership

New Zealand has had one of the most effective COVID-19 responses in the world, to the point that the virus is now effectively eliminated. While being a remote island nation obviously offers structural advantages in today’s situation, the country’s 39-year-old prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has done a notably good job of turning those structural advantages into a coordinated victory.

The two articles below describe her approach and its impacts. From a Talentism lens, Ardern demonstrates several key behaviors:

Compassion for Self and Others: Note in the articles below how her communication and responses orient towards acknowledging the COVID context and its impact. She doesn’t try to pretend it’s not happening, or that she’s not affected, herself. Rather, she starts by acknowledging that reality and moving forward.

Design for What She’s Like: Not every world leader is going to be at their best doing Facebook Live videos in their pajamas. For Ardern however, being comfortable in informal broadcasts has turned into a superpower. Rather than trying to disguise her youth to try to gain credibility as someone she’s not, she’s leaned into the qualities that make her effective, notably relatability and facility with social media.

Learning Leader -> Humility + Action: Ardern has been willing to both step back and listen to the people around her (often actively deferring public health questions to the scientists on her team), and act decisively based on the best information she has in a way that accounts for unknowns (e.g. closing down flights from China and introducing a quarantine period for all visitors). She doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, nor does she get paralyzed by that fact — she’s been willing to act quickly against clear goals, and update her response based on new facts on the ground.

ECM Clarity: One of our core frameworks at Talentism is the “Enterprise Clarity Model,” which describes the most important areas in which an organization needs to provide clarity to its members. These include Goals, Leadership, Management and Culture. As you read through the articles below, note how effectively Ardern provides clarity on each of these elements, sharing a clear vision for handling the pandemic (Leadership) and what she’s trying to achieve (Goals), providing clear structures to help people make sense of it via the 4 tiered threat levels (Management), and modeling what good behavior looks like (Culture).

With those lenses in mind, take a look at the articles linked below:



  • How much compassion have you been able to access as a leader? Do you have a clear sense of how your people are doing? Your clients? How do you know?
  • What have you been wrong about so far when it comes to COVID and how to respond to it? What have you learned from those cases? Have you communicated or taken responsibility for those misses?
  • What are some of your unique qualities as a person? Are you leaning into them as you help others navigate COVID-19, or trying to pretend to be someone you’re not?


Write down the following:

  • Your vision for how your company wins through the current crisis
  • Your 2-3 key company goals and how (if at all) they’ve been impacted by COVID
  • 2-3 key processes you want your people to follow to stay coordinated
  • How much of that have you already shared with your team? What needs to be reinforced? What can you do to demonstrate commitment to these areas yourself?
  • 2-3 key behaviors you want to see from your team in particular during this period

How much of that have you already shared with your team?
What needs to be reinforced?
What can you do to demonstrate commitment to these areas yourself?


Read more popular articles