Leadership insights

Celebrating people, companies, Governments on their response to COVID-19

We’re taking a moment to look back at the past six months and celebrating those that have paved a way for others during COVID-19. 

A recent World Economic Forum editorial outlined 3 leadership lessons from the age of coronavirus. 

1. Lead with Empathy and Honesty
2. Be Agile
3. Value Your People.

Based on those lessons, in this article we are going to put forward examples where the response to COVID-19 has been strong.     One caveat here is we acknowledge that no single person or business will reach perfection.   And it takes a team. 

Jacinta Ardern, Image Source : Governor-General New Zealand / CC BY

The prime minister of New Zealand, elected in October 2017, is a shining example of both Leading with Empathy and Honesty and Valuing Your People.   

“Jacinta Arden (PM of New Zealand) – due to the way that she has led her country through the crisis. She has been decisive, making tough decisions quickly to protect the population however unpopular they may be, whilst being empathetic and caring. Arden clearly identifies with her fellow New Zealanders and highlights the ways in which the situation affects both the country but also herself.”
Mark Barber, Agile practitioner, Melbourne.

“It takes courage and strength to be empathetic, and I’m very proudly an empathetic and compassionate leader. I am trying to chart a different path, and that will attract criticism but I can only be true to myself and the form of leadership I believe in.” BBC Interview – Jacinta Ardern

Scott Farquhar (image by Atlassian).


The tech giant Atlassian, addressed the crisis early on.  A leading example of Value Your People, they were on the front foot back in early March.  Atlassian was one of the first global companies to ask all their employees to work from home.  They launched their Remote Work Hub within days.    Then later in August they made remote work permanent.    Dom Price, their resident tech futurist said, “The superpower of a great leader in this modern world is the ability to be authentic and vulnerable. And that’s not perfect, it’s beautifully imperfect.”

When Atlassian announced the permanent shift to working from home, Scott Farquhar said, “We will no longer be held back by the old way of doing things — being cautious, fiercely protecting our norms and not reaching great talent beyond our offices.”

Brian Chesky Image by Airbnb / CC BY


Small companies needed to pivot during COVID-19.  But so did large.  Take AirBNB as an example.  This was a business wholly based on travel, in a world where most travel was banned. So they chose to innovate and pivot.  Pivot to unique experiences online.

In a recent interview Simon Sinek had with CEO Brian Chesky – Chesky said, “So much of it is mindset.  If you think you’re going to win, if you think this is going to define you in a positive way, it kind of happens… – So we said every single opportunity is a moment we have to pivot and move fast. You have to have the mindset, a mindset of hope, optimism, resiliency that we are going to get through this, and every one of these crises is going to lead to a new point of innovation”


Chen Chien-jen.  Image source: CC by


Chen Chien-jen, is Taiwan’s former vice president who led their response to COVID-19.  He is an epidemiologist, who studied at John Hopkins School of Public Health and was able to mix both science and politics in a trusted manner.  He’s been largely lauded as the reason Taiwan is a success story in the global battle against COVID-19.   Based on their experience with SARS, they were able to prevent the wide-spread cases by acting quickly.  They communicated early, and often.  Including their daily press conferences.   The learnings from SARs induced a systematic overhaul which allowed transparency, information sharing, and international co-operation, on a rapid scale, should a pandemic strike again.   Which we now know, it did.

In this Hoover Institution video he says “Taiwan has been prepared for this for 17 years.  We learned the hard way from the SARS outbreak in 2003… During an epidemic the government is now authorised to have medial care institutions to function as hospitals or isolation hospitals… and automised boarder quarantine protocols… An adequate supply of PPE is also critical.”

“Among all of the measures I would like to point out a critical element of the Taiwan Model – Transparency.  From the very beginning of the pandemic the Taiwan government has spared no effort in ensuring that the public has open access to COVID-19 information”.

Stagekings Founders & Directors, Tabitha
& Jeremy Fleming
with Head of Production Mick Jessop –
Image source


In Australia, Stagekings was the leader in custom designed stages for events around the country.  When COVID-19 hit, and all events were cancelled – their entire business was not only put on hold, they had to sack their entire permanent staff of 12.    However 48 hours later they pivoted to a whole new business, making furniture. They now employ 58 people. This new business can be argued is now even more successful than their previous established one.

Jeremy Flemming, one half of the husband and wife team that started the business, said in a recent interview for Money Mag, “We started thinking about it on the Sunday, and Mick’s hobby was furniture and he came in on the Monday with designs and prototypes and models. Overnight we built an e-commerce page on our website and on Tuesday we went live and business hasn’t stopped. It’s really amazing and we have 50 people back working.   The thing is, it’s keeping everyone sane more than anything.”

Shane Delia Image source


Head Chef at Maha in Victoria Australia, Shane Delia has established a new business platform. Providoor is helping many of Melbourne’s best CBD and inner city restaurants offer their customers ready to heat and serve meals. The restaurants involved have redesigned dishes from their well known menus to be easily assembled and served at home.

“Providoor is a fantastic example of pivoting quickly to meet changing conditions and scaling as more consumers got on board and realised they could still enjoy food from their favourite restaurants and support them with the current restrictions. It is great to see a local company adapt so quickly and successfully to an event that could have shut them down,” says Chelsea Bates, our managing director (and foodie) in Victoria.

“The industry can sit here and worry that things aren’t going to be like they were, or we can pivot hard, not just to survive now, but to continue to thrive in the future,” says Shane Delia in a recent interview in Broadsheet. “We asked restaurateurs to change the way they think and to create a package of food that can be finished at home so that the quality is maintained,” Delia says.

Individuals and Small Organisations – BE AGILE

“I’m amazed at how many organisations and individuals changed to adapt to the COVID-19 disruptions. The small shops that only traded in cash money are now onboard with the idea of accepting credit card payments. In fact, they would have probably shut down if they didn’t respond to the changes in the environment and change the way they do ‘work’.

The old and young friends and colleagues of mine that ‘hated’ technology and rejected any form of online meetings are now on board with it and using it to reach out to their dear ones and connect to the rest of society. Again, without overcoming their own biases and learning to adapt to the new normal, they would have cut themselves off the world”, says Mina Gurgis, senior consultant, Sydney, ADAPTOVATE.

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