Sweden’s Covid-19 Strategy from a Leadership Perspective: Importance of Trust and Role Models

Globalization, Political Economy, Business and Society in Pandemic Times

ISBN: 978-1-80071-792-3, eISBN: 978-1-80071-791-6

ISSN: 1876-066X

Publication date: 8 December 2021


Brandebo, M.F. (2021), "Sweden’s Covid-19 Strategy from a Leadership Perspective: Importance of Trust and Role Models", Fang, T. and Hassler, J. (Ed.) Globalization, Political Economy, Business and Society in Pandemic Times (International Business and Management, Vol. 36), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 143-156. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1876-066X20220000036013



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021 Emerald Publishing Limited


Leadership in the event of accidents and public crises means leading under ­pressure. In these situations, leaders move from an everyday context to a riskier zone characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity. Effective leaders who are able to manage both these contexts form a vital prerequisite for success. During severe crises, expectations are high on leaders, and as stated in the Guardian, “crisis has defined political leaders” (Smee, 2020). Crisis management “is an ongoing process to prevent or reduce negative consequences involving activities before, during and after a crisis” (Hede, 2018, p. 4). Leaders in crisis management often have to manage two different contexts, the normal and the crisis context (Boin, ’t Hart, Stern, & Sundelius, 2016). Also, the leader must lead within his/her own organization while at the same time collaborating with other organizations (Uhr, 2017). All of this is often performed under the watchful eye of society and the media, placing extra strain on the leader. To be able to lead in this way requires that the most visible leaders in a crisis set a good example. The purpose of this chapter is to analyze the Swedish leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic from a leadership perspective. In particularly I am interested in discussing the Swedish leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of trust, indirect leadership and destructive leadership. Here, the leaders referred to politicians at national levels (e.g., Prime Minister and government ministers) as well as director-generals (e.g., the head of a government agency) and other prominent representatives for government agencies (e.g., Folkhälsomyndigheten – FHM in Swedish). In the rest of this chapter, I will first describe how Sweden coped with the Covid-19 pandemic. Then I will discuss the leadership literature in which the Swedish leadership during the covid-19 pandemic is captured.

The Swedish Strategy

In Sweden, the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed on January 31, 2020. The initial reaction from the Swedish government was to assure Swedish citizens that there was no danger for the spread of contagion (Ludvigsson, 2020a). While other nations reacted quickly, Sweden initially took few actions. An example is whether or not the final competition of Swedish national song competition in the first weekend of March 2020 should continue as planned. While the neighbor country Denmark stopped the event in the last minute, Sweden decided to move on as planned with 27,000 people in the audience (Expressen, 2020) despite the fact that man-to-man cases were reported. Another example is that while other nations introduced mandatory quarantine for citizens arriving from other countries, Sweden decided not to. One more controversial example is Swedish individuals who were evacuated from Wuhan in February 2020 were only asked to put themselves in voluntary home quarantine without other measures taken. As we all know, the situation quickly changed and Sweden had to face up to the fact that a large number of people would probably fall ill and die. In March 2, the Public Health Agency of Sweden (FHM in Swedish) increased the degree of risk of infection spreading from very low to very high. This was at the same time as WHO stated that covid-19 was a pandemic, a global threat to the health and well-being of human being (Ludvigsson, 2020b). FHM has an overall national responsibility for health issues. During the Covid-19 pandemic, FHM’s role has been to collect and disseminate information, discuss risk assessments and measures, coordinate measures, and to coordinate and communicate messages for the Swedish Government and other actors (Folkhälsomyndigheten, 2021). In Sweden, we have a prohibition against unconstitutional ministerial intervention. This means that the Government cannot influence how individual Government agencies carry out their work. Actions that independent agencies take cannot be overruled by the Government. The Government can, however, reject the recommendation from the FHM but has traditionally followed them (Ludvigsson, 2020b, pp. 2464–2465). This way of leading and governing can be described as indirect leadership where the Government can be seen as indirect leaders and the FHM as the link between the indirect leadership and the population. More about indirect leadership will be discussed later in the chapter.

Sweden has distinguished itself globally in terms of strategy to deal with the pandemic that is based principally on the recommendations from FHM. In the beginning, the measures that the FHM took were interpreted as a “heard immunity” strategy, although the FHM has denied this (Dagens Nyheter, 2020b). At the same time, a more trust-based strategy was implemented. The strategy refers to having trust in the population, that is, counting on them to understand the seriousness of the situation and control the virus by social distancing and good hand hygiene. The strategy initially excluded laws and prohibitions and was instead based on greater freedom than in most other countries. The authorities expected the inhabitants of Sweden to take the situation seriously and act accordingly. This strategy is built on assumptions that individuals are more enduring in these kinds of situations if methods like information spreading and tax reliefs dominate instead of bans and fines (Pierre, 2020). For this kind of strategy to work, it is also implied that the population needs to have trust in their indirect leaders (the government) and their links (e.g., FHM). As stated in the Government’s home page, in Sweden, the population tend to have high trust in authorities which makes the population follow the advice of the authorities (Government Offices of Sweden, 2020). As I will discuss in this chapter, a trust-based strategy may easily lead to trust violations if the trust the populations puts in their indirect leaders are not met.

The choice to use a less restricted strategy (e.g., not using lock-downs) has been both praised and criticized. For example, during a WHO virtual press conference, Dr Michael Ryan from the WHO said that based on trust relationship between the state and its people and self-regulation, “Sweden represents a future model” (WHO, 2020). However, from other perspectives, the Swedish leadership can be regarded as destructive, meaning that it lacks decisiveness and it is unclear. Destructive leadership occurs when subordinates perceive the leadership behavior to be obstructive or hostile, more about this later in this chapter (Schyns & Schilling, 2013). The authorities early decided that strategies should be evidence-based. Lindström (2020) has pointed out that the strategies which Sweden in the beginning opted out from, for example, border closures, school closings and social distancing has almost no scientific evidence. Instead, when a new and previously unknown contagion occurs, practical experiences and common sense should be used. Instead, a heavy burden was laid on the individual citizens who were expected to take action by self-control. On the Swedish government’s official website, the following can be read in relation to the strategy:

In Sweden the population has a high level of trust in the authorities. It contributes to people following the advice from authorities to a large extent. In current situation, people in general act responsibly to reduce the spread of infection, for example by restricting relations and other social contacts. (The Swedish Government, 2021)

This statement shows that the Swedish Government counted on the population’s willingness to follow the advice given. However, in December 2020, the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 increased and stricter national regulations were introduced, for example, the number of people allowed to be present in a party or at restaurants was reduced from 8 to 4; municipal facilities such as sports facilities and museums were closed; and places serving alcohol was forbidden to sell alcohol after 8 p.m. This was followed by the Covid-19 law, which was put into use on January 10, 2021. This allowed the Government to take stricter measures by for example limiting the number of visitors and customers in stores, gyms, and sports facilities. Private gatherings were limited to a maximum of eight people. For the Swedish population, who during most parts of the pandemic had maintained great freedom, this was a great change when they, for example, were prevented from doing activities such as practicing sports. In times of crisis, people want and need strong leaders to guide them through uncertainty. These leaders need to be not only great crisis managers but also trustworthy role models.

Trust in Leaders

As mentioned earlier, the Swedish strategy can be seen as trust-based. Scholars have emphasized risk as an important, perhaps even core component of trust, implying that trust only exists in risky situations (Clark & Payne, 2006; Deutsch, 1958). For example, Boon and Holmes (1991) define trust as “a state involving confident positive expectations about another’s motives with respect to oneself in situations entailing risk” (p. 194). Other definitions stress an individual’s willingness to be vulnerable to another individual (e.g., a leader, subordinate or peer; Deutsch, 1958; Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995). Trust in leaders affects other individuals’ willingness to accept the leader’s motivational influence to become better group members and improve as a person (Sweeney, Thompson, & Blanton, 2009) and their willingness to follow directives and take on risks (Collins & Jacobs, 2002). Trust has also been found to help individuals in a group or organization to direct their efforts toward a common goal, instead of focusing on individual doubts and personal motives (Dirks & Skarlicki, 2004). From a Swedish perspective, the Covid-19 strategy was built on positive expectations on the Swedish population’s willingness to adhere to the rules and regulations (willingness to accept the indirect leadership’s motivational influence), which implicitly means relying on the population to trust the indirect leaders (e.g., the government) and their links (e.g., FHM).

The character-based perspective of trust focuses on the leader’s character and how it affects a follower’s vulnerability in a hierarchical relationship. This perspective has been suggested to be important since the leader has the authority to make decisions that have a great impact on another individual (Dirks, 2006; Dirks & Skarlicki, 2004). In contexts associated with high risk and personal vulnerability, the character-based approach has been found to be more fruitful (Clark & Payne, 2006). According to this perspective, individuals evaluate the leader’s ability, integrity, dependability and fairness, which have consequences for the subordinate’s behavior and attitudes.

Trust in leaders is often categorized in a few broad categories/factors, where the most common are Competence/ability (skills in a specific domain), Integrity (possession of a set of principles that the trustor finds acceptable) and Benevolence (the leader is believed to want to do good for the trustor) (Colquitt, Scott, & LePine, 2007; Mayer et al., 1995). Integrity can be assumed to be of particular importance in times of crisis when the population is in need of strong leaders to assure them that the situation will be solved and that the authorities can handle the situation. Mayer et al. (1995) explain that the relationship between integrity and trust “involves the trustor’s perception that the trustee adheres to a set of principles that the trustor finds acceptable (p. 93).” Following a set of ­principles indicates personal integrity, and it is important that a trustor accepts the principles. If not, the trustee is not considered to have integrity for the trustor’s purposes. Aspects of integrity are consistency in past actions, credible communications from other parties, a strong sense of justice, and that actions are congruent with words.

Indirect Leadership

That the Swedish government often leads through government agencies can be referred to as an example of indirect leadership which is defined as “the influence of a leader on employees not reporting directly to him or her” (Larsson, Sjöberg, Vrbanjac, & Björkman, 2005, p. 215) and “the influence of a focal leader on the development and performance of individuals who do not report directly to that leader” (Yammarino, 1994, p. 29). While direct leaders normally communicate with their subordinates using face-to-face contact, the indirect leader mostly interact with subordinates through intermediaries (direct leaders) (Larsson et al., 2005; Yammarino, 1994). Therefore, to my opinion, theories of indirect leadership can also be used to analyze public and political leadership. These leaders lead through intermediaries and have very limited contact with most of the population while at the same time often becoming the front of different crises.

The model of indirect leadership proposed by Larsson et al. (2005) should be considered a process that begins with higher organizational level leaders’ visions and goals and their ways of implementing these. The ideas and mental models that constitute visions and goals pass through a “filter” that either facilitates or obstructs the implementation. The indirect leader can influence lower-level individuals through two simultaneous routes. The first one is “action-oriented” and means that the indirect leader uses a single individual or a small group of immediately subordinate managers to pass on messages to lower organizational levels (chain of command). The second influence process is “image-oriented,” and through this pathway the indirect leader influences lower organizational levels by being a favorable or unfavorable role-model. In favorable cases, the link(s) and the indirect leader are trusted, which is a necessary condition for commitment and active participation. In unfavorable cases, there is a lack of trust toward the link(s) and the indirect leader, which can lead to redefinitions of the messages and a need to rely on rewards and punishments to obtain obedience.

This model highlights important issues for trust development between leaders and individuals on lower levels. Firstly, it is essential to develop trust between the indirect leader and his/her link(s). The link(s) are a necessary means to successfully implement goals and visions. A lack of trust between the indirect leader and his/her link(s) may lead to unfavorable filtering, which in turn can lead to a lack of trust in the indirect leader. Secondly, it is also of utmost importance to develop trust between the link(s) and individuals at lower organizational levels because the link(s) presumably affect the development of trust between the individuals at lower levels and the indirect leader. Thirdly, the model illustrates that trust in the indirect leader is not only influenced by the action-oriented process (through the link(s)) but also by the indirect leader being a role-model. This can be compared to transformational leadership, developmental leadership and authentic leadership (role-model, charismatic leadership) and implies that trust in higher leaders is not only based on the higher leader him-/herself but also on subordinate leaders.

Trust in indirect leaders is more general (Whitener, Brodt, Korsgaard, & Werner, 1998). It is important for attitudinal outcomes like commitment (Yang & Mossholder, 2010). Theory about indirect leadership puts trust in a central position since the theory emphasizes that favorable indirect leadership leads to trust, while unfavorable indirect leadership leads to lack of trust (Larsson et al., 2005). Since the Swedish authorities have chosen a strategy that builds on the population’s trust in the authorities, it is also important that the authorities respond to and acts in a trust-building manner.

Destructive Leadership

Destructive leadership can be defined as

the systematic and repeated behaviour by a leader, supervisor or manager that violates the legitimate interest of the organization by undermining and/or sabotaging the organization’s goals, tasks, resources and effectiveness and/or the motivation, well-being or job satisfaction of subordinates. (Einarsen, Aasland, & Skogstad, 2007, p. 208)

Schyns and Schilling (2013) propose another definition of destructive leadership:

A process in which over a longer period of time the activities, experiences and/or relationships of an individual or the members of a group are repeatedly influenced by their supervisor in a way that is perceived as hostile and/or obstructive. (p. 141)

Both definitions stress that the behavior is repeated over time and that it does not need to be volitional. The consequences of the behavior matter, not the intention. The definition by Schyns and Schilling (2013) does not include the anti-organizational dimension but focuses on the results and the subordinates’ perception of the leader’s behavior.

Some scholars divide destructive leadership behaviors into active and passive forms (Einarsen et al., 2007; Larsson, Fors Brandebo, & Nilsson, 2012). Active behaviors include, for example, arrogance, unfairness, threatening or punishing subordinates. Passive behaviors can be exemplified by leaders who do not show active interest, do not dare to confront others, are unclear or are poor at structuring and planning (Larsson et al., 2012). While active forms represent more deliberate and volitional behaviors, passive forms are regarded as behaviors that leaders use when they have more or less abdicated from supervisor responsibilities and duties (Einarsen et al., 2007). Skogstad, Hetland, Glasø, and Einarsen (2014) state that passive behaviors can be defined as a follower-centered form of avoidance-based leadership and are thus perceived as a volitional and active avoidance of subordinates when they are in need of leadership and support. Laissez-faire leadership has also been highlighted as the most prevalent destructive leadership behavior (Aasland et al., 2010). From other nations’ perspective, the Swedish, or Scandinavian, leadership style may be seen as passive (Larsson, Brandow, Fors Brandebo, Ohlsson, & Åselius, 2016). Lindkvist (1988) points out that the desire to achieve consensus, decision-making by democratic processes and co-operation are typical of Scandinavian organizational behavior. However, from a Scandinavian perspective, this is a great difference from being passive. It is rather considered a constructive leadership style which can be compared to transformational leadership (Bass, 1985). The leader involves the subordinates which makes them more motivated and competent.

In crises, situational awareness is often diffuse, the time horizon shorter and there are several potential outcomes. The uncertainty in the crisis, sometimes combined with extensive media coverage, can result in leaders using passive destructive behaviors even if they, under normal circumstances, are considered to be effective leaders (Fors Brandebo & Larsson, 2012). Research shows that leaders during societal crises may refrain from acting out of fear of the consequences of a wrong decision (it is better to do nothing than to do something incorrectly) (Fors Brandebo, 2020). Research also indicates that destructive leadership is more common in organizations that are characterized by structural and organizational instability, uncertainty/perceived risk and greater freedom of action for leaders, which makes it easier for them to abuse their authority (Howell & Avolio, 1992; Padilla, Hogan, & Kaiser, 2007). Fors Brandebo, Nilsson, and Larsson (2016) proposed that leaders with a high workload and/or stress in their work are more prone to using passive destructive leadership behaviors directed at their subordinates since they do not have sufficient time to be clear and structured, to be engaged or to take care of things. Seven different destructive leadership behaviors have been identified in crisis management. These were identified in a qualitative interview study where the informants consisted of individuals involved in crisis management at regional, local, and operational levels (Fors Brandebo, 2020). The behaviors can be divided into task- and relationship-related ones. The task-related behaviors are related to the leaders’ competence, that is, perceptions of the leaders’ ability to handle the crisis:

  • Overcontrolling, not involving others (too task- or goal focused, takes over subordinates tasks, do not keep others informed)

  • lack of decisiveness (avoids responsibility, doesn’t deal with situations, acts cowardly, avoids conflicts, doesn’t want to make decisions)

  • ambiguity (unclear in his/her information, doesn’t give clear directions and structure, cannot prioritize)

  • Becoming stressed, losing control (not able to handle stress and strains, loses control, exaggerates in stress, expresses mood swings).

The relationship-related behaviors are behaviors related to the leaders’ ability to maintain and build relationships with others, behaviors that have negative consequences for individuals’ well-being and/or sense of meaningfulness. These behaviors are as follows:

  • Egocentric (makes decisions that benefits the leader, prestige-seeking, elevates themselves, undermines others, taking credit for others work)

  • threats and punishments (aggressive, mean, unpleasant, punishing those who do not meet expectations, bullies)

  • does not show respect and understanding (lacks ability to cooperate, unwilling to become familiar with other’s needs, cannot see things from other perspectives).

The Swedish Leadership During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Ludvigsson (2020b) has compiled a time line of the first eight months of how the Swedish authorities handled the covid-19 pandemic. In January 2020, the authorities communicated that the risk of transmission in Sweden was deemed low. Just one day after WHO defined covid-19 as a threat to human health, Sweden had their first case of covid-19 on January 31, 2020. In the beginning of March 2020, the risk of imported cases was deemed as high but the risk of general transmission in Sweden was considered moderate. While other nations had closed, or started to close, their borders, schools etcetera, Sweden still remained an open country. However, the Swedish population prepared for a changed everyday situation by bunkering groceries, and above all, toilet paper. The FHM explained that the number of cases was needed to be kept down and that it was important to reduce the speed of the infection. People with symptoms were tested but at the same time, the FHM stated that not everyone “who are snotty” could be tested (Dagens Nyheter, 2020a). Other recommendations that were made public was that people over the age of 70 should limit their relationships and that people, generally should avoid unnecessary visits to health care and elderly care. Gatherings with more than 500 people were forbidden, unnecessary travel should be avoided, and as far as possible, people should work from home. Just a few weeks after these recommendations, in the end of March 2020, visits to elderly care was banned and gatherings of more than 50 people was forbidden. Criticism was directed at the authorities for not taking stricter measures before.

In April, higher education was recommended to occur remotely. FHM also recommended that public transportation should be avoided, especially at rush hour. In April/May, there was an increased pressure from the population regarding being able to test for immunity. Private actors began to offer this service although the FHM advised against this due to validity issues with available tests but also because these kind of testing would affect the capacity of testing healthcare professionals. In the end of May 2020, the situation in Sweden changed with fewer infected leading to decisions to open up higher education in August and in June, travel restrictions within Sweden eased. Unnecessary travel was still advised against and the population was encouraged to “hemestra” (a combination of the Swedish words for home and vacation, hem and semester). Unclear instructions what “hemestra” actually meant led to some of the population interpreting it as staying in one’s own region while others understood it as staying within the Swedish borders. This, amongst other things, led to an increased number of mountain tourist. One consequence of this was that Swedens highest mountain, Kebnekajse, was showered with more than 100 tents that inexperienced tourists just left at the mountains. During the summer, critique was raised at closed amusement parks and cancelled concerts while shopping centers were allowed to keep open. In August 2020, schools opened as usual. Higher education was recommended to take place remotely if possibly. In the end of September, the number of infected started increasing again. In October was the first time that FHM introduced the measure that households with established covid-19 infection could, by doctors, receive rules of conduct. These households could, for example, be advised to quarantine in the household. This was the beginning for more strict rules and regulations.

It can be assumed that the Swedish population’s trust in leaders of the authorities is based on their images. During the pandemic, regular press conferences have been held (often on a daily basis) to inform the population and media about the current situation and strategies. These press conferences have often included the appearance of for example the prime minister, different ministers, such as the minister of health and social affairs, FHM’s state epidemiologist and representatives for the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency. The Swedish population has probably based much of their perception of these individuals, and the organizations and the parties they represent, during these press conferences. A perception of their images is gained. The population needs to rely on this image as real since it may be the only way for them to gain an understanding of these indirect leaders at all. As stated, the indirect leader’s image can go two ways, through their links or directly down to individuals at lower levels in the hierarchy (Larsson et al., 2005). The first way, through links, can be exemplified through a representative for a government agency whose actions affect the image of the director-general of that specific government agency. Alternatively, a politician whose actions affect the image of the party leader. In this case, you can also see the media as a link, which conveys an image of the leaders. The next way is, for example, through press conferences where the population can observe both how the leader talk (how the leader formulates oneself) and behave (body language, style of dressing).

Because the population, in most cases, lack personal contact with these indirect leaders, their trust is based on the leaders’ image as it is conveyed in the media, independently if it is occasions where the indirect leaders themselves appear or if it is conveyed through media. These images tend to be stereotyped and simplified. An image-based trust is a form of trust that has been suggested to be relatively weak since it is not based on actual knowledge (Fors Brandebo, 2015). This makes it of utmost importance for the leader to take care of their image. One negative event or a slip of the tongue can be enough to decrease trust or turn trust into mistrust (Bligh, Kohles, Pearce, Justin, & Stovall, 2007). Indirect leaders who are responsible for frameworks, goals, directions, rules, and structures for the society are also expected to follow these. The indirect leaders are expected to have high integrity, which is to practice what one preaches. Deviations from this can result in great damage to trust.

Trust is more easily broken than built (Lewicki & Wiethoff, 2000). If trust is broken, individuals tend to be more prone to interpret the leader’s future behavior as destructive. It has been suggested to be difficult, if not even impossible, to recreate trust in a leader if the individual has lost trust in the leader’s character (Kim, Dirks, & Cooper, 2009). Integrity-based trust violations appear to be the most difficult to overcome (in comparison with competence-based violations). This is probably related to the fact that competence-based violations more easily can be associated with mistakes, while integrity-based violations tend to be interpreted as moral deficiencies (Ferrin, Bligh, & Kohles, 2007; Kim et al., 2009; Kim, Cooper, Dirks, & Ferrin, 2013). This means that an excuse from the leader can repair trust in the event of a competence-based violation but not if the violation can be related to integrity (Kim et al., 2009). Grover, Hasel, Manville, and Serrano-Archimi (2014) have identified two categories of irrevocable trust violations: deception and abuse of power. Both can be related to integrity. Deception includes lies, not keeping one’s promise, and deliberately withhold information. These behaviors are related to honesty. Abuse of power deals with leaders not exhibiting ethical leadership or making overdemands. Another aspect that influences the consequences of trust violations are whether or not the individual perceives the violation to be intentional or not. Perceived intentional violations harm trust more than perceived nonintentional violations (Lewicki & Bunker, 1996; Morrison & Robinson, 1997).

Initially, the critique from some of Sweden’s inhabitants was related to the Swedish strategy being too weak and vague. The authorities could be seen as applying a passive, destructive leadership by putting the responsibility on the population. The critique was also directed at the authorities’ lack of decisiveness, for example in relation to the decision not to close the borders. However, at the same time, the Swedish state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell and FHM were also praised for not allowing public opinions to affect their decision-making and letting an evidence-based strategy rule. Anders Tegnell initially held high trust in opinion polls, but as the number of infected and dead increased, the trust decreased significantly. This can be seen as a competence-based trust violation since a part of the population started questioning if the choice to base the strategy on evidence was the right decision.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, several other examples of trust violations can be found in relation to the Swedish indirect leadership. These are related to violations of directives and rules. A strategy that is built on trust in authorities also implies that the authorities must meet the expectations of the population. It is safe to say that one of the most obvious expectations is that the leaders themselves should follow the rules and regulations that they have decided on. As stated at the beginning of this chapter, after a rather lawless beginning on the pandemic, the Swedish authorities moved to stricter rules at the turn of the year from 2020 to 2021. The authorities also warned the population that more rules would follow if not every individual took these new regulations seriously. This can be seen, through the eyes of the population, as a sign of distrust in the population. The authorities did no longer trust the population to do their best to keep the contagion in order. In other words, the indirect leaders proceeded to use destructive leadership behavior such as threats and punishments. However, it is also worth noting that individuals that initially experienced the Swedish leadership as passive may have seen this as taking necessary measures.

Unfortunately, during a relatively short period of time, several authority representatives were noticed in the media for having violated rules and regulations. One of the most notable examples was the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency’s (MSB) director-general, Dan Eliasson, who took a vacation trip to the Canary Islands during the holidays despite that the recommendation from the authorities was to avoid unnecessary travel. This event did harm not only the trust in Dan Eliasson, but also the trust in MSB as an organization. Even the trust in FHM was reported to decrease as a consequence of this action (Kantar Sifo, 2021). Another example is Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who received criticism for visiting a shopping center after the government had gone out with a call to avoid crowding during the Christmas and end-of-the sales period. On Instagram, the Prime Minister explained that he had, amongst other things, bought food, repaired a watch, shopped at the state liquor shop, and bought a Christmas gift for his wife. He emphasized that he had ensured that the shops were not crowded and that he, like others, tries to follow the recommendations and directives from FHM. The Swedish Minister of Finance, Magdalena Andersson, also ended up in the spotlight when she, just a few days before Christmas, visited a ski rental service in another region despite the previously mentioned recommendation to avoid unnecessary travel. All these examples show how a leader’s image and trust can be seriously damaged based on one single event. All of these examples can be related to integrity-based violations, and as stated above, these kinds of violations are difficult to overcome (Ferrin et al., 2007; Kim et al., 2004, 2013). It is important for indirect leaders to create credibility, and if this is not accomplished, individuals tend to not only lose trust in the leader but also in their advice and recommendations. As an indirect, public, leader it is of utmost importance to follow the rules and regulations you and your organization have decided on or communicates. It is difficult to maintain trust and credibility if the leader demands that the population make intrusions in their lives when the leader does not make the same sacrifice.


The Swedish Covid-19 strategy is to a large extent based on the assumption that the population has trust in the authorities and accordingly follows set rules and regulations. This requires public leaders that can meet the population’s expectations and serve as role models. Initially, the strategy was party criticized for being too vague and passive, and a more active and decisive leadership was demanded. At the end of the year 2020, the rules and regulations were tightened, and the authorities were more inclined to using threats and punishments to bring the population to respect the given advice (keep social distance and wash hands). In March 2021, even more tightened rules and regulations came out, for example recommending people to visit shops alone. A few regions introduced stricter local recommendations. However, the strategy was still essentially based on trust, although the new regulations indicated that the authorities no longer had the same trust in the population’s willingness to follow given advice. Unfortunately, during a short period of time, several authority representatives went against their own advice and guidelines damaging the trust in the leaders and the organizations and parties they represent. One can assume that the population’s motivation and willingness to follow the rules and regulations has decreased as a consequence. Integrity-based violations of trust are more difficult to overcome, and although it is too soon to see the long-term consequences of these actions, it will probably affect the population’s trust in the Covid-19 strategy and the public leadership in the long run.

By analyzing the Swedish Covid-19 strategy, this chapter contributes to the knowledge about trust in public leaders. Especially, how trust in these leaders is affected by the leaders’ images and trust violations. In the future, it will be important to more thoroughly study what impact the Swedish trust-based strategy had on the population’s willingness to follow rules and regulations. This is important in order to understand how trust works between authorities and the population. Also, in case of trust violations, how long does it take to recreate this trust? Since trust is reciprocal, trust violations may be assumed to be difficult to overcome. Also, had a more stricter strategy in the beginning been more favorable compared to starting with the trust-based and then having to sharpen laws and regulations later, that is indicating that the authorities no longer had trust in the population and proceeded to using destructive leadership behaviors. It will also be important to study how this kind of strategy affects the population’s attitude against and willingness to get vaccinated.


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1. Globalization, Political Economy, Business and Society in Pandemic Times
Part I: Globalization, Political Economy and Society in Pandemic Times
2. From Vulnerability to Sustainability? The Enforced Cooling Down of an Overheated World
3. The Political Economy of COVID-19
4. Macroeconomic Perspectives on the Corona Crisis
5. Human Rights: Four Lessons from the Pandemic in a Post-pandemic World
6. Prosperity and Disease: Lessons from History
7. COVID-19 and its Impact on Medical Research and Society
Part II: Industry and Business Strategy in Pandemic Times
8. Thinking Strategically During the Global Pan(dem)ic
9. Post-COVID Debates in Global Strategy
10. The Effects of COVID-19 on Tourism in Nordic Countries
11. Global Value Chain Strategies Before and After the Pandemic Crisis: The Case of Volvo Cars
Part III: Leadership and Human Capital in COVID-19 Pandemic
12. Sweden’s COVID-19 Strategy from a Leadership Perspective: Importance of Trust and Role Models
13. The Dual Role of Trust in Creative Global Virtual Teams: Implications for Leadership in Times of Crisis
14. Human Capital Mobility in Developing Countries Under the Pandemic Times: Losses or Opportunities?
15. At the Crossroads: International Student Exchanges During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Part IV: International Relations and International Business in an Emerging Bifurcated World
16. China’s Diplomatic Offensive and Rivalry with the US in Response to COVID-19
17. The New Challenges in the Emerging Context of Global Decoupling
18. The EU–Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement: A Tool to Tackle the COVID-19 Crisis and Other Global Issues?
Part V: COVID-19 and New Research Agenda
19. COVID-19 and International Business
20. New Configurations of the IB Theories: Dynamic Response to the Environmental Challenges
21. A Cross-cultural Research Agenda in the Time of COVID-19