Sometimes I find myself just going ‘wow’, when I think about how much the world has changed in the past six months and how it continues to alter and shift as we all negotiate our way through the social, cultural and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Each day I am surprised by news from New Zealand and around the world and the wonderful successes and mind numbing lows of human behaviour. But more and more I find my mind turning to the realities and mythologies of leadership. 

Leadership is a unique attribute. Not all of us possess it and many of us don’t want it. Some of us thrive as contributors in teams or as followers of the directions and strategies of others. Very few seek to lead and even fewer are equipped to do so. It takes only glances at online media headlines to see the effects of woeful leadership and the real and lasting consequences of decisions made in vanity, driven by ego. On the other hand, solid leadership is inspiring and infectious. It creates trust, alleviates doubts and summons the best in those that follow.

I firmly believe that the once in a century conditions we find ourselves in demand a form of leadership that we may have never really witnessed before. By leadership I am not referring solely to one person, to an executive, a prime minister, a popular figurehead – I mean leadership by those charged to lead us. The governing and the opposing parties that make up our system of representational government.

Yesterday, the National party caucus was charged to select their fourth leader in the past three years. Todd Muller resigned after 53 days, citing the impact of the position on his health and Judith Collins was elected leader in his place.  It would be a understatement to say that the party’s leadership issues have been a challenge and there are many New Zealanders divided on Judith Collin’s ability to lead the party successfully to the next election, given the popularity of our current prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. But leaving that aside, the thing I found most disappointing about Collins’ leadership was the language she used at the press conference assembled to announce her appointment.

As reported in www.stuff.co.nz, Collins said, “I am hoping that the National Party can crush the other lot when it comes to September 19 . . .  It’s really important that we have a common goal. And the common goal is to get rid of the current Government and put in a far better Government . . .  [and to] take back our country from the current lot.” (Source: “Judith Collins, the new leader of National Party, promises to ‘crush’ the Government,” www.stuff.co.nz, 14 July, 2020).

That language is all well and good if it’s uttered by an All Black, or a boxer but I think it’s out of step with where we are at now and where we need to think about being in the coming years. There is no place for the ‘business as usual’ division that has blighted politics for centuries. It achieves nothing. It is not leadership, or, should I say, it is not solid or inspiring leadership, in my opinion.

What I would like to see, and I imagine may Kiwis would like to see as well, is a focus on consensus and agreement, rather than acrimony and division. There are so many problems that will need to be dealt with and arising issues that will require thoughtful and careful consideration as New Zealand continues to combat Covid-19 and reinvent our economy. I have no appetite for tit for tat mudslinging and the gutter-sniping that occasionally sullies the chamber of our elected representatives. I want to see decisions made across party lines with thought for all contributions. I believe then we can make use of the best of the 120 people sent to Wellington to do their utmost for us all.

The pandemic gave us pause, whether we liked it or not, to reflect and to think deeply about how we live and also how we want to live. That happens rarely in human existence and it would be a criminal waste to squander it. When we have the unique opportunity to recreate how we live and work, then why not make the most of it. I very much hope that all parties, whether in government or in opposition, can come together, leave differences aside and by consensus create a better New Zealand.