“What makes a good leader during a crisis?” is a question that has always been, but appears to be a more valid or rather a more convenient question today. The question no longer focuses on any crisis, but on the crisis we currently face.
The unfortunate and unwelcome guest of COVID-19 has come as a test to world leaders, who are now put under the spotlight more than ever before. Bombarded by questions, comments, and opinions, the crisis has forced leaders to promptly and effectively respond.
However, how truly effective have their responses been? Who is stepping up, taking action, and speaking out? Each of their decisions impact millions of people; having said that, the big question remains on whether their decisions saved lives, or contributed to the deaths of many — the individuals who have fallen victim not of the pandemic, but of the actions taken, or rather the actions not taken.
It is beyond doubt that a true leader stands out in a crisis, and this pandemic has not proven otherwise. Jacinda Ardern has proven to be a true leader who has occupied news headlines, as New Zealand eliminates the coronavirus and increases its chances of remaining free of COVID-19 for months to come, even as the global pandemic worsens. Choosing to “go hard and early” as Ardern mentioned was the key to an effective response, with the whole country placed on total lockdown by the 25th of March, resulting with a minimal total number of cases and deaths.
Taiwan’s close ties with China could have been disastrous placing it in a more vulnerable situation. However, leader Tsai Ing-wen impressively contained the virus, with cases only up to 455 this day. It could be argued that the lessons learned from the preceding SARS outbreak in 2003 were of great importance, as well as the proactive approach taken by epidemiologist Chen Chien-jen. Referred to as “Taiwan’s weapon against coronavirus” by the New York Times, Chen Chein-jen’s guidance and medical advice was of immense importance in the development of antiviral medications, proving today’s interdisciplinarity of politics and science.
This pandemic has also proven that a bad leader surely stands out; whether in a crisis or not. There is no doubt that Donald Trump of the United States of America is always the talk of the town, but he has become even more so with his highly ineffective response that has led to nearly 5 million cases, and over 150,000 deaths – the blood is on his hands. The numbers demonstrate how Trump’s downplay for too long has proven disastrous, and a near end to all this is nowhere to be seen. “It’s one person coming in from China,” he said to CNN, “We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
A similar disastrous situation can be seen in Brazil, with Jair Bolsonaro’s downplay and dismissal of the pandemic, constantly referring to it as a “simple flu”. He has been placed in the position of an international villain; his reckless and selfish behaviour of putting his own political agenda over the lives of his people has shown how badly a leader could possibly act in a time of need. Brazil’s cases proceed to spike, reaching an alarming 2,500,000 cases, and about 90,000 deaths. Bolsonaro’s appearance to prioritise unemployment over his people’s struggle for survival is what has given rise to the cases and deaths, “Are people dying? Oh, yeah. And I feel for them. I feel for them. But there will be more people dying, many many more, if the economy is destroyed by these lockdown measures imposed by governors.” Bolsonaro stated.
In this situation where educating others and themselves is key, both Bolsonaro and Trump have miserably failed.
Prompt yet well thought-out actions, science, compassion, and informing one’s self and others are at the heart of the most effective responses to COVID-19’s unexpected arrival. With that being said, the questions of whether the situation will worsen, or whether there will be a second wave soon remain unanswered, therefore it is of utmost importance for leaders to learn from their mistakes, as well as other leaders’ actions. As previously stated, true leaders stand out in a crisis, and today’s pandemic proves so.