The contrast between two national leaders in these ‘interesting’ times could not be more pronounced. The differences between America’s President Donald Trump and New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinta Ardern are remarkable.
Trump flounders in this crisis and continues to blame others (including the State Governors) and find scapegoats (including the World Health Organization), and his own administration seems to have bungled this crisis from the beginning. His presidency has emboldened America’s enemies, insulted their neighbours (Mexico) and alienated their allies (EU and NATO).
Transformational leaders do not take all the credit and find scapegoats: they acknowledge and involve others in finding strategic solutions. Trump originally dismissed the deadliest virus since the Spanish flu as a ‘Democratic hoax’, and seems to regard COVID-19 merely as an economic slowdown, not as a global health emergency. His discourse and language is about ‘deals’ not ‘solutions’. His approach is not co-ordination and co-operation with informed stakeholders to deal with this ‘wicked problem’, but blind loyalty to his own messaging and persona.
James Kouzes and Barry Posner (The Leadership Challenge, Jossey-Bass, 2017) talk about ‘moments of truth’ for leaders: what questions do you ask; how do you spend your time; what do you reward; and how to you deal with ‘critical incidents’. James Sarros and Oleh Butchatsky found that crises can lead to breakthrough leadership (Leadership – Australia’s Top CEOs: Harper Collins, 1996) when leaders then display continuous learning, confidence, competence and commitment. Ardern is dealing well with such ‘moments of truth’ and is a ‘breakthrough’ leader – Trump is not.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, the Director General of WHO, recently showed remarkable restraint when President Trump declared a freeze on USA funding and accused the WHO of failure in dealing with COVID-19 and not responding sooner. This is a classic case of projection: blaming others for one’s own failures. His polemic against WHO is an obvious ploy to distract and to blame. Dr Tedros states ‘We need a WHO that is efficiently managed, adequately resourced and results driven, with a strong focus on transparency, accountability and value for money.’ In due course, other countries might well revisit their own level of funding for WHO to assess this ‘value for money’. However, Trump’s polemic and invective against WHO in the midst of this pandemic, is unwise and ill-considered when a co-ordinated global response to this world-wide health crisis is still important and urgent.
By contrast, Ardern seems to have found – or naturally expresses – the right tone and approach during this COVID-19 crisis, just as she did during the Christchurch terrorist attacks. She did not blame or alienate Australia for harbouring that [to-be-unnamed] terrorist. Further, early in the spread of COVID-19, she was one of the first national leaders to close the country’s borders and institute a protocol for international arrivals to undertake 14 days self-isolation. While Ardern is consistent, clear, credible, human, compassionate, Trump is chaotic, confusing, inarticulate, robotic and insensitive.
Scholars of leadership such as Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee in Resonant Leadership (Harvard Business School Press, 2005) know that resonance with others is contagious and so is dissonance. People resonate with Ardern; only rusted-on Republicans seem to resonate with Trump. These researchers highlight three keys to effective leadership – mindfulness, hope and compassion.
Ardern is aware and mindful of her messaging and her manner, while Trump seems oblivious and unconcerned about his impact. Ardern offers hope while Trump offers disillusionment. Ardern displays natural empathy; Trump is wooden and robotic. Ardern unites; Trump divides. Trump regards leadership as about others deferring to and obeying him while Ardern knows that leadership is about serving others. Trump’s leadership style is ‘command and divide’; Ardern’s leadership style is ‘involve and unite’.
The USA and the rest of the free world might well hope that Trump is only a one-term President.
Greg Latemore has taught leadership, strategy, organisational behaviour and human resource management at three Australian Universities. He submitted his PhD in HRM in December 2019. [end]