Our research tidbits this week looks at how individual leaders and various leadership and management styles have served the world during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Donald Trump’s response to COVID-19 teaches us it’s time to end our romance with leaders
This article challenges our collective focus on individual leaders such as Donald Trump especially during times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It argues that such attention distracts us from larger systemic dynamics which are contributing to the severity of the pandemic in the US as well as obfuscating the influence of unelected parties whose interests are served by Trump’s actions.

In light of these observations, rather than continuing to feed our romance with leaders, leadership scholars are encouraged to (1) expand their inquiries to interrogate the structural and societal forces which contribute to a situation’s outcomes and keep individuals in place as leaders and (2) pay greater attention to the irrational, primal dimensions at play in the relationship between leaders and those they lead.

Read this Open Access article for free online.

Donna Ladkin. 2020. What Donald Trump’s response to COVID-19 teaches us: It’s time for our romance with leaders to end.

Leadership, 16(3), 273–278

Lessons from New Zealand’s approach to COVID-19
This case study analyses the leadership approach and practices of the New Zealand government, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in the response thus far to the COVID-19 pandemic. It reports on how a shared sense of purpose has been established, that of minimising harm to lives and livelihoods, for which the government has sought – and secured – New Zealanders’ commitment.

Key leadership practices comprise the government’s willingness to themselves be led by expertise, its efforts to mobilise the population, and to enable coping, all of which serve to build the trust in leadership needed for transformative, collective action such as the pandemic demands. At the time of writing, New Zealand appears well on track to achieve its ambitious goal of achieving rapid and complete control over the COVID-19 outbreak – not just ‘flattening the curve’ as other countries are struggling to do – at least in part due to these leadership contributions.

A framework of good practices for pandemic leadership is offered drawn from this case study, in the hope transferable lessons can be taken to aid others in the continuing struggle to limit the harm COVID-19 poses to lives and livelihoods throughout the world.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Suze Wilson. 2020. Pandemic leadership: Lessons from New Zealand’s approach to COVID-19.

Leadership, 16(3), 279–293.

Where is Boris Johnson? When and why it matters that leaders show up in a crisis
In this piece, the author draws on an ethics of care and compassion to address a question that has been asked almost daily in UK politics over the past weeks and months, namely: Where is Boris Johnson? Johnson is a leader with a long-standing reputation for being selective about whether and when he shows up.

On 16 March 2020, as the severity of the coronavirus finally seemed to register, Johnson agreed to start holding daily press briefings, bringing his previous track-record and apparent instinct for no-shows into sharp relief. Criticism was understandably stilled during his hospitalisation for the virus, but it was not long after his discharge from hospital before the question of his absences came back into focus, with renewed concern about his non-attendance at key COBRA meetings and his decision to go on holiday in mid-February as the virus had been taking hold.

Through the prism of the psychoanalytic caring leader, the author reflects on some of the explanations for, and implications of, his absences, arguing that they do not always have the same function or effect. Some absences may be politically astute, as a way of promoting an anti-establishment message and/or reassuring his constituents of their own competence and efficacy. Other absences are decidedly risky, because they send a message that he does not care.

In times of crisis, the scales of separation versus proximity – absence versus presence – tip differently to normal, and leaders who appear not to care risk triggering especially powerful anxieties about betrayal and abandonment. When it is impossible for us to be carefree, leaders must avoid being perceived or experienced as careless.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Leah Tomkins. 2020. Where is Boris Johnson? When and why it matters that leaders show up in a crisis.

Leadership, 16(3), 331–342.

Explaining how COVID-19 is exploited by populist leaders
Using the persecution of Muslims in India that is currently taking place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 global pandemic as an illustrative case, this essay identifies the dynamics of the organisation of ideological discourse by populist leaders in times of unexpected crisis.

The organisation of ideological discourse represents strategic, discursive acts committed by populist leaders aimed at foregrounding social conditions that would function in the advancement of various political ends—whether those ends may be the consolidation of power, the undermining of institutional systems of checks and balances, the implementation of exclusionary or injurious policies against disenfranchised constituents, the suspension of civil liberties, or a combination thereof.

It is engendered through a three-stage process. In the first stage, surface-level validation by legitimate institutional actors confirms preconceived ideas about a constructed enemy. In the second stage, inflammatory rhetoric is deployed by populist leaders, which scapegoat that constructed enemy. These two stages culminate to create widespread moral panic in society. With moral panic firmly established, in the third stage an environment of fear and paranoia becomes susceptible to the enactment of symbolic and physical violence against the constructed enemy. The essay concludes with some words on the pressing need to deconstruct ideologically motivated discourses related to COVID-19.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Ajnesh Prasad. 2020. The organization of ideological discourse in times of unexpected crisis: Explaining how COVID-19 is exploited by populist leaders

Leadership, 16(3), 294–302.

Leadership, management and command in the time of the Coronavirus
The Covid-19 pandemic that swept through the world in late 2019 and through 2020 provides a test not just for all societies and their leadership, but for leadership theory. In a world turned upside down, when many conventions are disposed of, it is clear that things will not return to the status quo ante any time soon, if ever.

In the light of these challenges, this short paper suggests we might reconsider the way governments and their leaders act against the frame of societal problems, originally established by Rittell and Webber in 1973. The author suggests that all three modes of decision-making (Leadership, management and command) are necessary because of the complex and complicated nature of the problem and conclude that while Command is appropriate for certain times and issues, it also poses long-term threats, especially if the context is ignored.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Keith Grint. 2020. Leadership, management and command in the time of the Coronavirus.

Leadership, 16(3), 314–319.

Even in a global pandemic, there’s no such thing as a crisis
In the author’s 2019 publication, Constructing Crisis: Leaders, Crisis, and Claims of Urgency, he argued that “crisis” is a label, a claim of urgency employed, typically by leaders, to characterise a set of contingencies that are, together, taken to pose a serious and immediate threat.

The author then proposed a typology for sorting through any such claim in order to reach a judgment concerning the legitimacy of the claim. Classification systems such as typologies are foundational to knowledge creation in that they enable pattern recognition. How we classify phenomenon has a real impact on how we consider and behave in response to that phenomenon. In the context of a global pandemic, the importance of critical judgment is especially salient.

Labelling the global pandemic as a crisis may be non-controversial (to most). But there are enumerable claims being made under the general rubric of that pandemic that are not nearly so widely and easily accepted. Furthermore, claims of urgency will continue long after this particular contingency passes. It is never advisable to relax a critical perspective, especially when assertions of power and interests are involved and the stakes are so high.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Bert Spector. 2020. Even in a global pandemic, there’s no such thing as a crisis.

Leadership, 16(3), 303–313.