Radio review: Great leadership in a time of pandemic

Nuala McCann

Lessons On a Crisis Leadership Radio 4

When the books are written what will they say distinguished the world’s leaders in this pandemic?

Who will be named as the great; the good; the hopeless?

Journalist Evan Davis is a very natural presenter. He also gives his guests time to develop their ideas – he has a relaxed style that suits this kind of discussion programme.

This is one of a series of programmes reflecting on lessons learned through this pandemic.

There were four guests on this particular programme talking about leadership good and bad and what makes for good leadership.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former prime minister of Denmark, pointed to how women had proved themselves the good leaders in this crisis.

Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel, Erna Solberg are up there, she said.

Then take bad leadership: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro.

Could it be that countries where the population elects female leaders have other characteristics which make them better at fighting Covid, she asked.

Rory Stewart, former Conservative MP and minister for international development, knows Boris Johnson.

He talked about the pithy campaign, about a new politics which is about continuous campaigning and slick short simple messages.

There’s a thin line between populism and democracy, he said.

Also on the panel were Poppy Trowbridge, a special advisor to Phillip Hammond and Prof Charlie Jeffery, vice chancellor of the University of York.

An example of bad leadership – Dominic Cummings and Barnard Castle said Prof Jeffery.

Good leadership has to be Dr Li Wenliang who raised the alarm on the pandemic in Wuhan and later died of Covid.

Poppy Trowbridge cited the Parks Department Canada as a great example of organisational leadership.

In an email to its staff at the beginning of the pandemic, the department reminded them: “You are not working from home, you are at home in a crisis trying to work.

“Your team success will not be measured the same way it was when things are normal.”

We heard about when the message was very wrong; remember “Operation Last Gasp” – the Johnson joke about building more ventilators? Remember a bombastic Johnson shaking hands at the beginning of the pandemic.

But there were times when things went right – the success of the vaccination programme when the government went in fast, took risks and got ahead.

In the end, there was not enough time, I’d have listened to these guests for much longer.

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