Leadership during a crisis.

How New Zealand’s Horticulture Leaders Responded to Covid-19

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Executive summary

The Covid-19 pandemic hit New Zealand during 2020 and the horticulture sector was immediately faced with an extremely challenging situation. The sector was operating under very strict rules and experienced significant effects to the wider supply chain. But overall, the sector performed very well during 2020.

The aim of this report is to understand how the New Zealand horticulture sector successfully navigated the unknown during the initial phase of the pandemic, specifically focussing on leadership.

The question I wanted to answer was ‘what are the most effective leadership strategies during a crisis?’.

I completed a literature review to analyse some of the previous work done on crisis leadership and interviewed six senior leaders from New Zealand’s horticulture sector. These people were actively involved in directing the industry and leading their stakeholders through the early phase of the pandemic.

The clear answer to my question regarding the most effective crisis leadership strategy was to implement a people-first approach. Removing the controllable worries that people have about the situation. Keeping people busy to maintain a sense of purpose and continuing a level of social interaction are all key parts of a people-first strategy. 

With this approach, people are motivated to continue as normal and will often create better results. A lot of the interviewees reported better team engagement, efficiencies, and overall business performance during this period.

It is clear, that without this people-first approach, New Zealand’s horticulture sector would not have managed this period as successfully as it did.

Communication was also a significant part of the successful leadership strategy. There was no fear about potentially over-communicating. Getting the correct and most up to date information out to all stakeholders quickly was a focus. Many communication systems have been completely refreshed as a result.

The pandemic situation was developing so quickly, that often learnings from previous weeks or from other businesses were very useful to handle new challenges. Being conscious of the learning opportunity was challenging for businesses, but once embraced, systems and processes improved significantly.


  • Cultivate a company culture that puts people first and ensure that staff can recognise this prioritisation.
  • Invest in professional development and networking opportunities to continually upskill staff and create opportunities for pan-industry connections.
  • Review and re-create the existing communication plans to ensure the best tools and strategies are being used.

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