Jaewynn McKay: Leaders will step up in this time of crisis

Wednesday March 04, 2020 Published in Editorials
A man with a face mask rides a cart down a street in Shanghai. AFP 20030302 A man with a face mask rides a cart down a street in Shanghai. AFP 20030302

OPINION: Now is not the time for political point-scoring. The threat of coronavirus is the time to come together as a people, as a nation.


Martin Luther King Jr once said: “The ultimate measure of a leader is not where they stand in moments of comfort, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.” 

Leadership is about inspiring people to be their best and do their best, not necessarily being the hero.

A great leader is honest, can inspire others, has commitment and passion about what they do, has strong decision-making skills, is a good communicator, and is adaptable.

In a crisis there can be more than one leader.

The key characteristics of a crisis are surprise; insufficient information at the outset; escalating flow of events; loss of control; intense external scrutiny; siege mentality; panic; and a short-term focus. Leaders are able to combat these characteristics.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “A time of crisis is not just a time of anxiety and worry. It gives a chance, an opportunity, to choose well or to choose badly.”


President John F Kennedy: “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters – one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”


Both these men faced a crisis or two in their respective careers.

Within the last week we have seen coronavirus (Covid-19) move a lot closer than seeming a little bit like something that’s happening to other people and countries far far away.

The cases in Australia and New Zealand are not distant from our shores and are of interest to us.

Internationally, comparisons are being made between Covid-19 and SARS, Zika, chikungunya, cholera, Ebola and smallpox. This really is just the latest virus.

Closer to home some in Aotearoa are drawing similarities to the 1918 flu pandemic in New Zealand that killed 9000 New Zealanders (a disproportionate number of them Maori).

But there’s one important difference. We know about coronavirus, we know how it affects people, we know that the vast majority of people who contract the virus will recover with the proper treatment. We know that more likely than not it will come to our shores and we have the benefit of being able to prepare for its arrival.

And that’s exactly what our leaders have been doing the past few days and weeks.

In no-nonsense terms leaders have told us that the arrival of Covid-19 is anticipated but that we lack advanced respiratory services like an intensive care unit to manage critical cases; that there will be an additional strain on our health system.

Leaders have imposed travel restrictions so that further distance is put between us and the Covid-19 epicentre – essentially buying us precious time and hopefully lessening the impact when it does arrive.

Leaders have established regular meetings of people – some of these groupings have morphed into taskforce like groups concentrating on the impacts the arrival of Covid-19 will have not only on our personal health, but also the health of our economy and how we might mitigate these impacts.

I am confident that these leaders are defining the problems – in both long- and short-term thinking – and are working on solutions. They have a mountain of challenges and we must have faith in their leadership, and if called on to play a part, do so, to the best of our ability.

Now is not the time for political point-scoring – the issue at hand is bigger than that.

It is the time to come together as a people, as a nation and I believe our political leaders have already demonstrated that willingness and need.

I’m no fan of Rudy Giuliani but I do like this quote of his: “It is in times of crisis that good leaders emerge.”

I believe in the coming months we will benefit from our own good leaders – some we already know; others are going to emerge. We need to have faith in them and take seriously their advice when given.

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