New Zealand Chief of Army Writing Competition Finalist for the Officer Category June 2020

By Mr. L Macintosh

We are currently living in a time of uncertainty. The unprecedented impact of the new Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) on humanity has been felt globally. Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. However, at the time of writing, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19.  The potentially deadly coronavirus has now reached 3.5 million known cases and spread to 215 countries.[1] Hundreds of thousands of people have perished, national economies have dived, and the global movement of people and trade has reduced significantly. Now more than ever, effective All of Government (AoG) leadership and action is required. Across nations, AoG approaches and results have varied. Czech Republic, Germany, and South Korea all enforced strict lockdown measures designed to eliminate COVID-19, whilst outliers like Sweden have adopted alternate approaches towards achieving a similar end state. Global political leadership is also just as divergent with some leaders embracing science, whilst others deny it or broach conspiracies. In all cases, COVID-19 is seen as an adversary. Reviewing our backyard, the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Ms Jacinda Ardern and Ministry of Health (MoH) Chief Executive and Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield have fronted the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Early enforcement of a comprehensive lockdown, soft key messaging, and constant communication to the public have been central to the New Zealand Government’s response. Only history will tell what countries got it right but undoubtedly sound public sector leadership will be a determining factor in positive national outcomes. This essay will analyse the leadership of both the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health within the COVID-19 pandemic. Key themes for analysis are the ideas of transformational leadership, timely and effective decision making, communicating key messages to determine the key lessons for current and future NZDF leaders at all ranks and at all levels.

Whos Who: Prime Minister of New Zealand, Ms Jacinda Ardern

Taking an initial broad-brush look at the identities and background of the current Prime Minister and Director-General of Health will help to provide context and awareness to later leadership analysis. Ms Jacinda Ardern is the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand and is the current leader of the centre-left New Zealand Labour Party. Born in April 1980, Jacinda Ardern had a rural childhood growing up between Morrinsville and Murupara in a family of four. Notably, her father Ross Ardern is a New Zealand diplomat and a former police officer and is currently the appointed Administrator of Tokelau. Graduating from the University of Waikato with a Bachelor of Communications Studies in Politics and Public Relations, Ms Jacinda Ardern has spent the early years of her career working in the public sector in New Zealand and around the world before entering Parliament in 2008. Becoming the world’s youngest female head of government at the age of 37 in 2017, [2]  Ms  Jacinda Ardern also holds the responsibilities of Minister for National Security and Intelligence, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, and Minister for Child Poverty Reduction. Praised for her handling of the Christchurch Mosque shootings in March 2019, she has garnered international support for her authentic leadership and modern approach to both international and domestic issues. Not without controversy, critics have questioned her ability to handle and condemn recent ministerial and party scandals and her position of power is vulnerable given its coalition foundation and possible future prospects of the New Zealand economy. In her role as Prime Minister, Ms Jacinda Ardern requires to have an extensive knowledge about both domestic and international issues whilst communicating a leadership style that appeals to New Zealand voters. To achieve this, she requires expert advisors and public servants across the public and private sectors to create and implement policy.

Whos Who: MoH Chief Executive and Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield

Relatively unknown until recently, the ascent of Dr Bloomfield as a trusted public sector leader has been rapid and generally applauded. Appointed as the MoH Chief Executive and Director-General of Health in June 2018, Dr Bloomfield has recently fronted several high-profile crises (Christchurch Mosque Shootings, Whakaari Eruption, Samoan Measles Outbreak) which have all uniquely tested his leadership capability and the public health system. Potentially influenced by his father’s service as a New Zealand Army TF Infantry Officer, Dr Bloomfield’s work in the public sector is extensive.  A 1990 graduate of the University of Auckland School of Medicine, Dr Bloomfield worked in hospitals in New Zealand and the United Kingdom before specialising in public health medicine. Dr Bloomfield led the Hutt Valley District Health Board from 2015-2018 and has also previously held senior leadership roles in the MoH. NZ Herald Senior Writer, Mr D. Fisher remarked that “It’s as if Dr Ashley Bloomfield’s entire life was on a trajectory to meet Covid-19 and help guide New Zealand through it.” [3]  Much like the Prime Minister, Dr Bloomfield’s current leadership role as Director-General of Health requires him to make tough decisions that put essential workers in harm’s way. New Zealand’s plan for responding to health crises elevates the role and responsibility of the incumbent Director-General of Health.  Observations and analysis of this decision making and personal leadership style will undoubtedly bring out or reinforce a number of lessons for the NZDF leaders.

Transformational Leadership

More and more New Zealanders have tuned in to watch, listen, and comment on the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health delivering key messages and updating the nation on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response. The New Zealand public have been largely supportive of the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health due in no small part than to the transformational leadership style projected by these two key leaders. Transformational Leadership is the process where “leaders and their followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.”[4]  American scholar Bernard Bass expands this by noting that, “transformational leadership can move followers to exceed expected performance, as well as lead to high levels of follower satisfaction and commitment to the group and organisation.”[5]  Transformational Leadership includes the following components:

 

  1. Idealised Influence

Leaders serve as role models to followers, walking the talk and having high standards of ethical and moral conduct.

  1. Inspirational Motivation

Leaders motivate and inspire followers by providing and involving followers in a shared vision and sense of purpose.

  1. Intellectual Stimulation

Leaders challenge followers to be innovative and creative by questioning old perspectives and generating new ideas.

  1. Individualised Consideration

Leaders demonstrate genuine concern for the needs and feelings of followers.[6]

 

From a strong foundation of experience in dealing with the domestic crises of 2019, both the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health have approached the COVID-19 pandemic with a calm resolve and clear communication. A clear articulation of key messages and facts characterise these leaders’ shared daily COVID-19 media briefings, whilst empathetic and pragmatic guidance to the public steers the personal Q&A sessions conducted on Facebook Live. The Atlantic Newspaper recently stated that “New Zealand’s Prime Minister May Be the Most Effective Leader on the Planet”[7]  while the Director-General of Health efforts have seen wide-ranging praise bestowed upon him alongside his fan-generated music videos, ‘curve crushing’ clothing, and a petition asking for him to be named as the ‘New Zealander of the Year’.[8]  Despite the lighthearted nature of some of these news pieces, both leaders have shouldered six month 20% salary cuts[9] and are quick to acknowledge the efforts of the civil servants behind them and essential workers working at the coal face. Scientific statistics would also suggest that this deification might not be completely unwarranted. Many developed countries are continuing to see thousands of new COVID-19 cases, in contrast to New Zealand’s significantly low daily figure increases.[10]  More importantly, followers (in this case a large portion of the New Zealand public) have obeyed lockdown restrictions and enabled the recent successes of the GONZ elimination strategy. NZDF leaders utilising transformational leadership would see a greater ‘buy-in’ from unit or organisational members in achieving mission tasks and inspire adaptive action within the commander’s intent. This requires our leaders of all levels to understand and implement the values and behaviours required of their rank level within the NZDF Leadership Framework. Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen are likely to training on transformational leadership at the ‘Lead Capability’ level of the NZDF Leadership Framework. Simply continuing to observe, critique and imitate the positive leadership actions of the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health from home during the lockdown will go some way in developing individual skillsets. Coupled with communication strategies and timely and effective decision-making, the transformational leadership styles of both the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health has served New Zealand well amid this current crisis.

Timely and Effective Decision Making

‘Go hard, go early.’ Frequently expressed by the Prime Minister, the sentiment represents an offensive AoG mindset and a bias for action against a non-typical adversary. Conceptually, timely and effective decision making is as important to AoG organisations and leaders, as it is to the NZDF and its mission command philosophy. As singular pieces, timely and effective allude to, “occurring at a favourable or useful time,”[11]  and “successful in producing a desired or intended result,”[12]  respectively. Decision making refers to “the action or process of making important decisions”.[13]  Brought together, the concept accepts uncertainty and risk in order to make a “timely decision based on best assessment of incomplete information.”[14]  Timely and effective decision making exemplifies seizing the initiative and achieving greater tempo over an adversary, and in this case, it has seemingly reduced community transmission and protected individuals from continued imported infections. With 52 COVID-19 cases confirmed and no deaths in late March, the Prime Minister and Director General of Health introduced the national alert levels on 21 March 20 and shortly thereafter enacted a strict nationwide level 4 lockdown on 25 Mar 20.[15] The lockdown framework and enforcement decision by the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health was made prior to any confirmed community transmission or COVID-19 related deaths and, most importantly it was a departure from the standing national influenza pandemic plan.[16]  The GONZ became a world leader when it moved boldly ahead of our near peers and other developed countries to act decisively against its new adversary. The WHO Western Pacific Incident Manager, Mr A. Mahamud told Radio New Zealand that “our view of New Zealand’s response has been one of the strongest in the world, and there’s a lot that global communities can learn from the response.”[17] At the decisive point, the enforcement of an early lockdown is potentially one of the most important decisions this Government has made in its tenure.  Regardless of the outcome, the key lesson for NZDF leaders lies the rational and deliberate decision-making processes of the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health. The NZDF teaches timely and effective decision making through both theoretical and practical training. You may have been taught concepts such as Mission Command, Manoeuvrist Approach, and the OODA Loop or unknowingly practised decision-making in realistic field or live firing exercises. Regardless, it is the individual ability to make a decision which is key. Acting at the decisive point in both time and space enhances the process and enables the force to achieve greater tempo relative to the adversary. Leaders of the NZDF have a unique responsibility to wholeheartedly practise and make sound decisions based on incomplete and imperfect understanding; especially when results can have life-threatening consequences. When learning or coaching subordinates, developing logical and analytical decision making is more important than teaching the ‘DS’ answer. Understanding and practising decision-making processes across training mediums and on operations will enhance joint operational effects and the likelihood of mission success.

Communicating Key Messages on All Nets

A key component of the GONZ pandemic response is the implementation and widespread use of key messaging. All communication technology platforms and channels have been engaged to reiterate key messages. Official daily briefings, media interviews and unofficial public Q&A sessions have made readily accessible to all, including the most vulnerable. Overt AoG public service announcements and advertising across tv, radio, print and social media has also featured widely. Phrases like ‘be kind’, ‘stay home, save lives,’ ‘go hard, go early’ and ‘we are a team of 5 million’ have all been used by the Prime Minister and the Director-General of Health to communicate an AoG strategy and impart behavioural expectations on the local population. The effective use of saturated official key messaging balanced against public engagement on social media by these leaders increases perceptions of accessibility, and authenticity. David Brain, co-founder of the survey company Stickybeak stated that, “communications was integral to effective national responses to the pandemic. Much of that is to do with Jacinda Ardern’s personal style and empathy and the calm and rational presentations of Dr Ashley Bloomfield.”[18]  However, the praise is not universal. Key messages count for nothing when statements are considered to be misleading or exposed as shallow under critical analysis. Such blunders include:

  1. Exemptions for families to visit terminally ill patients in hospitals and the incorrect numbers of approvals and denials by the MoH. [19] [20]
  2. Use of epidemiology and medical jargon to describe ‘elimination’ when describing COVID-19 cases and ‘stable condition’ when referring to a hospital patient.[21] [22]
  3. Disparate messaging between the GONZ and essential works when describing the availability of the flu vaccine and personal protective equipment (PPE) stores.[23]

Fortunately, AoG is holding itself to account. The Auditor-General will scrutinise the MoH’s handling and distribution of PPE, after weeks of health worker concerns about access,[24]   and the Director-General of Health has recently commissioned several reviews into the performance of the MoH.[25]  Overall, the AoG approach to communicating key messages to the public has been largely successful. For the NZDF, our communication strategy and use of key messages on operations and in BAU are just as important. Succinct messaging that resonates with the targeted population or group enhances joint operational effects and is cheaply implemented across communication technology platforms such as social media. Understanding how Defence Public Affairs operates and implementing public affairs effects into plans across the spectrum of warfare is a key shaping activity that can be used against our adversaries. Kinetic and non-kinetic operating environments will dictate the tone and effect of key messages but understanding the importance of communication as a neutral capability is essential.

Conclusion

Witnessing the New Zealand AoG approach to the COVID-19 pandemic from within an operational level headquarters has been thought-provoking to say the least. A bold strategy coordinated and led by AoG and key leaders such as the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health has potentially saved countless lives. Transformational leadership has been decisive in inspiring followers and imparting behavioural expectations. The timely and effective decision-making to enact an early lockdown decision and subsequent execution will undoubtedly affect national COVID-19 infection/recovery rates and our closely tied socio-economic prospects for the near future. The communication of key messages utilising technology to target and reach groups across the population has had a measurable shaping effect on the AoG pandemic response. Often regarded as a fast follower on the world stage, New Zealand has proven to an effective global role model and leader in crisis response and management. Orchestrating and synchronising the collective AoG response requires resilient public sector organisations led by experienced leaders. Balancing technical competence with operational management and strategic leadership both the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health have led this main effort, and the NZDF’s own leaders can take lessons from this.

 

Bibliography

Boyle, Chelsea. 2020. “Covid 19 coronavirus: Ashley Bloomfield apologises to family mourning Covid-19 victim.” NZ Hearld. April 23. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12327043.

Braae, Alex. 2020. “The Bulletin: Deeper scrutiny coming on PPE concerns.” The Spinoff. April 22. https://thespinoff.co.nz/the-bulletin/22-04-2020/the-bulletin-deeper-scrutiny-coming-on-ppe-concerns/.

Daalder, Mark. 2020. “How does NZ’s Covid-19 response stack up?” Newsroom. April 06. https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2020/04/06/1117839/how-does-nzs-covid-19-response-stack-up-to-overseas.

Deguara, Brittney. 2020. “Stuff.” Coronavirus: New Zealand’s Covid-19 response most impressive, US the worst. May 06. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/121425882/coronavirus-new-zealands-covid19-response-most-impressive-us-the-worst.

Donnell, Hayden. 2020. “Increasing media resistance to the deification of Dr Ashley Bloomfield.” Radio New Zealand. April 22. https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/mediawatch/audio/2018743685/increasing-media-resistance-to-the-deification-of-dr-ashley-bloomfield.

Farrell, Fiona. 2020. “Lockdown letters #25, Fiona Farrell: On the sacrifices of great leaders.” The Spinoff. April 20. https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/20-04-2020/lockdown-letters-25-fiona-farrell-on-the-sacrifices-of-great-leaders/?fbclid=IwAR0DPPS17ZJiteTJepZnZqKARpgkhC8gs8zQJEZFXShDF1x9gqveBtN0Bp8.

Fisher, David. 2020. NZ Hearld. April 11. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12324032.

Friedman, Uri. 2020. “New Zealand’s Prime Minister May Be the Most Effective Leader on the Planet.” Medium. April 22. https://medium.com/the-atlantic/new-zealands-prime-minister-may-be-the-most-effective-leader-on-the-planet-b944c6403e01.

Institute for Leadership Development. 2019. NZDF Lead Capability Workbook. New Zealand Defence College.

Michael G Baker, Amanda Kvalsvig, Ayesha J Verrall, Lucy Telfar-Barnard, Nick Wilson. 2020. “New Zealand’s elimination strategy for the COVID-19 pandemic and what is required to make it work.” The New Zealand Medical Journal. April 03. https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal-articles/new-zealands-elimination-strategy-for-the-covid-19-pandemic-and-what-is-required-to-make-it-work.

Ministry of Health. 2020. “COVID-19 Update.” Ministry of Health. March 21. https://www.health.govt.nz/news-media/media-releases/covid-19-update-21-march.

Moir, Jo. 2020. “Covid 19 coronavirus: Jargon to blame for confusion over virus ‘elimination’ – PM.” NZ Hearld. April 28. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12328086.

One News, TVNZ. 2020. “Dr Ashley Bloomfield responds humbly to news of petition for him to be New Zealander of the Year.” One News. April 13. https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/dr-ashley-bloomfield-responds-humbly-news-petition-him-new-zealander-year.

Oxford University. 2020. Lexico. May 06. https://www.lexico.com/definition/.

Pennington, Phil. 2020. “No exemptions from border rules given on compassionate grounds.” Radio New Zealand. May 04. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/415758/no-exemptions-from-border-rules-given-on-compassionate-grounds.

Tactical School, New Zealand Army. 2017. The Manoeuvrist Approach and Mission Command. Palmerston North: Tactical School.

The Economist. 2017. “The world’s youngest female leader takes over in New Zealand.” The Economist. October 27. https://www.economist.com/asia/2017/10/26/the-worlds-youngest-female-leader-takes-over-in-new-zealand.

Towle, M. 2020. “Covid-19: ‘New Zealand’s response has been one of the strongest’ – WHO.” Radio New Zealand. April 29. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/415375/covid-19-new-zealand-s-response-has-been-one-of-the-strongest-who.

WHO. 2020. “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic.” World Health Organisation. May 06. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019.

Zaki, Anan. 2020. “High Court allows man to leave quarantine to visit dying father, rejecting ministry decision.” Radio New Zealand. May 04. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/415796/high-court-allows-man-to-leave-quarantine-to-visit-dying-father-rejecting-ministry-decision.

 

 

[1]WHO. 2020. “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic.” World Health Organisation. May 06. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019.

 

[2] The Economist. 2017. “The world’s youngest female leader takes over in New Zealand.” The Economist. October 27. https://www.economist.com/asia/2017/10/26/the-worlds-youngest-female-leader-takes-over-in-new-zealand.

 

[3] Fisher, David. 2020. NZ Hearld. April 11. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12324032.

 

[4] Institute for Leadership Development. 2019. NZDF Lead Capability Workbook. New Zealand Defence College. Pg 182.

 

[5] Ibid. Pg 183.

[6] Ibid. Pg 183.

[7] Friedman, Uri. 2020. “New Zealand’s Prime Minister May Be the Most Effective Leader on the Planet.” Medium. April 22. https://medium.com/the-atlantic/new-zealands-prime-minister-may-be-the-most-effective-leader-on-the-planet-b944c6403e01.

 

[8] One News, TVNZ. 2020. “Dr Ashley Bloomfield responds humbly to news of petition for him to be New Zealander of the Year.” One News. April 13. https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/dr-ashley-bloomfield-responds-humbly-news-petition-him-new-zealander-year.

 

[9] Farrell, Fiona. 2020. “Lockdown letters #25, Fiona Farrell: On the sacrifices of great leaders.” The Spinoff. April 20. https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/20-04-2020/lockdown-letters-25-fiona-farrell-on-the-sacrifices-of-great-leaders/?fbclid=IwAR0DPPS17ZJiteTJepZnZqKARpgkhC8gs8zQJEZFXShDF1x9gqveBtN0Bp8.

 

[10] Daalder, Mark. 2020. “How does NZ’s Covid-19 response stack up?” Newsroom. April 06. https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2020/04/06/1117839/how-does-nzs-covid-19-response-stack-up-to-overseas.

 

[11] Oxford University. 2020. Lexico. May 06. https://www.lexico.com/definition/timely.

 

[12] Oxford University. 2020. Lexico. May 06. https://www.lexico.com/definition/effective.

 

[13] Oxford University. 2020. Lexico. May 06. https://www.lexico.com/definition/decision-making

 

[14] Tactical School, New Zealand Army. 2017. The Manoeuvrist Approach and Mission Command. Palmerston North: Tactical School. Pg 37.

 

[15] Ministry of Health. 2020. “COVID-19 Update.” Ministry of Health. March 21. https://www.health.govt.nz/news-media/media-releases/covid-19-update-21-march.

 

[16] Michael G Baker, Amanda Kvalsvig, Ayesha J Verrall, Lucy Telfar-Barnard, Nick Wilson. 2020. “New Zealand’s elimination strategy for the COVID-19 pandemic and what is required to make it work.” The New Zealand Medical Journal. April 03. https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal-articles/new-zealands-elimination-strategy-for-the-covid-19-pandemic-and-what-is-required-to-make-it-work.

 

[17] Donnell, Hayden. 2020. “Increasing media resistance to the deification of Dr Ashley Bloomfield.” Radio New Zealand. April 22.

[18] Deguara, Brittney. 2020. “Stuff.” Coronavirus: New Zealand’s Covid-19 response most impressive, US the worst. May 06. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/121425882/coronavirus-new-zealands-covid19-response-most-impressive-us-the-worst.

 

[19] Pennington, Phil. 2020. “No exemptions from border rules given on compassionate grounds.” Radio New Zealand. May 04. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/415758/no-exemptions-from-border-rules-given-on-compassionate-grounds.

 

[20] Zaki, Anan. 2020. “High Court allows man to leave quarantine to visit dying father, rejecting ministry decision.” Radio New Zealand. May 04. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/415796/high-court-allows-man-to-leave-quarantine-to-visit-dying-father-rejecting-ministry-decision.

 

[21] Moir, Jo. 2020. “Covid 19 coronavirus: Jargon to blame for confusion over virus ‘elimination’ – PM.” NZ Hearld. April 28.

[22] Boyle, Chelsea. 2020. “Covid 19 coronavirus: Ashley Bloomfield apologises to family mourning Covid-19 victim.” NZ Hearld. April 23. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12327043.

 

[23] Braae, Alex. 2020. “The Bulletin: Deeper scrutiny coming on PPE concerns.” The Spinoff. April 22. https://thespinoff.co.nz/the-bulletin/22-04-2020/the-bulletin-deeper-scrutiny-coming-on-ppe-concerns/.

 

[24] Ibid.

[25] Donnell, Hayden. 2020. “Increasing media resistance to the deification of Dr Ashley Bloomfield.” Radio New Zealand. April 22.