Responding in a crisis – the acid test of leadership

March 28, 2019 by Sophie Hunt


On 15 March 2019, the world was left reeling after a far-right extremist murdered 50 people in cold blood at two New Zealand mosques. Faced with responding to this horrific crisis, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has risen to the challenge admirably, demonstrating exactly what it takes to be an effective leader in times of trouble.

So, what can other leaders learn from her actions?


1.      Be visible   

In a crisis, people will be asking two questions of an organisation and its leaders: are they competent and do they care?

Effective crisis leaders understand the importance of answering these questions by being visible, showing support for those affected and inspiring confidence that the organisation will get through this terrible event.

From the outset, Jacinda Ardern has been up front and centre in her country’s response. She visited the incident scene, she met with the friends and families of those affected and she has successfully communicated the actions New Zealand is taking to address the situation.


2.      Be personal

A crisis is no time for cold statements issued from an ivory tower – something Ms Ardern clearly understands.

Visibly moved by events, she has spoken from the heart throughout this crisis, demonstrating high levels of empathy and a well-developed emotional intelligence. She has also communicated simply and clearly, taking on board her nation’s grief and articulating it in a way that is honest, respectful and genuine.


3.      Do the right thing, say the right thing

Leadership in a crisis requires courage. Courage to do and say the right thing.

Doing the right thing can mean taking difficult actions. For example, grounding a fleet of aircraft; ceasing to sell a highly profitable product or, in Jacinda Ardern’s case, introducing new gun laws.

Equally, saying the right thing can make leaders feel vulnerable. Phrases like “we’re sorry”; “we’ll spare no expense to put this right”; “I am accountable for resolving this” don’t always come easily but, used appropriately, they have the power to move mountains. 


As Jacinda Ardern has shown in recent weeks, crisis management is indeed the acid test of leadership and some leaders will fall short. However, those who demonstrate humanity whilst taking appropriate action will be rewarded with enhanced trust, respect and a stronger reputation.


Sophie Hunt


View Profile


Insignia Award Icon

Winner of Consultancy of the Year at CIR Business Continuity Awards 2023

Insignia Award Icon

Finalists for Specialist Consultancy of the Year at CIR Business Continuity Awards 2020 & 2023

Insignia Award Icon

Finalists in 2023 Great British Entrepreneur Awards: Service Industries category

Insignia Award Icon

Winner Specialist Business Book of the Year 2021 at The Business Book Awards (Crisis Proof)

Insignia Award Icon

Finalists in the Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards 2021: Purpose Before Profit category

Insignia Award Icon

Finalists in the Business Champion Awards 2021: Champions in a Crisis category

Insignia Award Icon

Finalists for Business Advisor of the Year at the 2021 Growing Business Awards

Insignia Award Icon

Shortlisted for BCI Europe Awards 2023: Continuity and Resilience Consultant category