Youth-adjacent leadership


We’re just over a week into our national lockdown in what continues to be some of the most historic developments of our time. Covid-19 has the world in a state of shock, torment and disarray. Quite frankly, we have no answers. Each night as I go about my usual news channel surfing between BBC World, France 24 Live, ABC Australia, Sky News UK and Aljazeera, the stories are all the same. Doctors expressing their sense of hopelessness, political leaders desperately trying to look calm and people falling sick. Very sick. Many dying. These are indeed extraordinary times.

NZ has not been exempted by the spread and effects of coronavirus. Each day the PM and Director General of Health bring the nation up to speed on the numbers of people tested for the disease and messages on how to slow its transmission with the desire to flatten the curve. The framework of four alert levels was useful in giving people an understanding of where we were headed if the global coronavirus pandemic was to take a real stranglehold in NZ. Moving through the stages rapidly was a tough pill to swallow, but in light of what we’re seeing overseas, a necessary approach.

PM Jacinda Ardern has done an excellent job of taking the nation with her on accepting the profound effects of a coronavirus outbreak in NZ. Her messages have been clear and compassionate. Her public demeanour has been caring and confident. Her leadership has been exemplary. There’s the adage of ‘cometh the hour, cometh the leader’ (or something like that). Ardern has been just the leader needed for these times. Often flanked by the Minister of Finance and Director General of Health, both of these men have also shown the highest levels of competence and commitment. It has been reassuring to observe.

Ardern is a self described youth-adjacent individual. A millennial. She represents a leadership style that is keen to listen, does so with ease and gathers all the evidence. It’s a style that takes on all the advice around her and considers it carefully. She has the unique ability to present that knowledge and information with language that is clear, riding on a linguistic tone that espouses empathy and understanding. She has been quick to address concerns of how particular requirements affect people on the street and how they might be rectified. Moreover, she believes in what she is doing – as has already been described in a recent post by Grant Robertson – and driven by a genuine concern for New Zealanders. Her leadership style has arguably been in contrast to some of her international counterparts.

NZ will be a very different place when we all come out of lockdown. And whether that happens in another four weeks or six months, our nation will be very different. Actually, the world will be very different. It might be too early to be thinking about how different things will be when we’re able to step out of our bubbles but you can already see hints of political leaders trying to encourage some of that thinking. Just yesterday the government announced that it was looking for ‘shovel-ready’ projects that would get companies up and running, and people employed as we exit this most peculiar period. The time that we get to spend indoors or on our close-to-home jogs in the community, will give us the space to think about what that new, NZ will be like.

Interestingly, the panel of experts the government has asked to look over all the shovel-ready projects, is made up of four, white, men. In the midst of the greatest international crises of our time, the people who will oversee how we kickstart our construction industry and reboot our economy, just don’t reflect the society we are, or more importantly, will be. True youth-adjacent leadership demands us to rethink and reimagine our approaches.

The other side of this pandemic, for all our sakes, cannot and should not look like this side. The other side needs to be diverse and dynamic; anchored on equity and focused on climate change. These will become the foundational pillars of the new NZ we’ll be in the next little while. Admittedly and sadly, there is yet more pain to endure before we make it out of the ark. But while it’s raining, let’s reflect on who we are, and lift our sights to who and what we could be.


  1. Indeed, Efeso. All your points are 100% spot-on.

    PM Ardern is the Leader for this time. We’re lucky. We could just as easily be saddled with a Trump, Boris, Bolsonaro, Orbán, Morrison…

    Will the world be different? In some respects, yes. We may have to totally re-think international air-travel. The pandemic could not have spread so easily with the technology of it’s human vectors. We may have to be more cautious.

    Questions will have to be addressed such as;

    * Do we want to return to the assembly-line tertiary education industry we had until recently?

    * Do we want mass tourism on the “low end” – or be more discriminatory toward the high-end?

    * Will fortnight-long self-isolaton be the new requirement for people entering the country?

    Because here’s the thing. No one has raised the invisible elephant in the room: covid19 is not the only virus out there. As humans rampage through the natural environment, whether burning down the Amazon rainforests or “wet markets” stocked with wild animals – there are many more micro-organisms out there that could just as readily mutate and adapt to human hosts.

    The next virus may not have a 1% death rate.

    The next one may be even more infectious, and more lethal.

    The covid19 virus should be a clear warning to us. We forgot the lesson of the 1918 Influenza pandemic. We cannot afford to forget this one.

    Stay safe, Efeso. All the best to you and your family.

    • Yep, a pretty bloody spiffing post. I was specially taken by a couple of things in the last two paragraphs.
      Things that have become evident for quite some time.
      EG “In the midst of the greatest international crises of our time, the people who will oversee how we kickstart our construction industry and reboot our economy, just don’t reflect the society we are, or more importantly, will be.” A comment that isn’t just applicable to the construction industry, but could be applied to so many other sectors in current governance – health, education, social welfare, and on and on,
      “The other side [of this pandemic] needs to be diverse and dynamic; anchored on equity and focused on climate change.” – and not just climate change. But clearly the “diverse and dynamic” has been missing.

      Now’s the chance to fix a few things but it’ll be a battle – there’s a load of complacent, lazy, ideologically-driven, smug, ……..etc thinking out there incapable of critical thought. Things may have to get worse before they get better.

  2. Well said Efeso.

    Agree with your “The other side needs to be diverse and dynamic; anchored on equity and focused on climate change. These will become the foundational pillars of the new NZ we’ll be in the next little while.” We have had an underclass in NZ since the 80s when Roger’n’Ruth’s wrecking ball swung through the provinces and the manufacturing industry of South Auckland and the Hutt. Thousands were never retrained or considered, just discarded, then demonised–all for macro economic decisions well out of their individual or family control!

    One thing has become very clear; neo liberalism and the market have failed abysmally for 30 years to deliver anything bar “great value for shareholders”–1%ers and their enablers have creamed it as our institutional memory of participation in community and society has faded. Involving the active participation of the people in the process of rolling back neo liberalism is surely a key goal.

  3. Nicely put together.
    We have many things to battle with and need to count the positive attributes we are presently benefiting from.
    Covid19 will pass hopefully but the strengths found in our community as well as benefits in rethinking how we live as a society, should be treasured an nurtured.
    The market ruling does not work as the poor will testify.
    We must look, listen, learn and take or part in change.

  4. Early days yet. Too soon to say, especially as the wheel are starting to come off.
    The approved spend is about all gone. $50bn approved up till June, $30b spent already.
    Allowing 5100 travellers returning home to not go into quarantine is bloody stupid and having a moronic Police Commissioner go off script aint good leadership.
    Reading a plan aint hard. Sticking to it is. 10 to 15 degrees off course already.
    But excels at photoshoot op’s! 10/10

    • It will take time to set up a state bank but in the meantime the Reserve Bank can create money and credit it to the Govt Transaction Account held at the Reserve bank.
      The way the money gets into circulation is for the Govt to spend it on infrastructure, create jobs or support social services, health. pay citizens or set up the UBI
      The money created should not go to private banks as is done in current QE..

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