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February 9, 2023

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‘Authentic and pragmatic’ – the leadership of Jacinda Ardern

In her first blog for SHP, Louise Hosking commends the leadership of Jacinda Ardern and suggests we can all learn from the former New Zealand PM.

Former Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern. Credit: jeremy sutton-hibbert / Alamy Stock Photo

New Zealand’s 40th Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has stepped down from her role. In an announcement, she said: “I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility – the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”

Whether you agree with her politics or not she has epitomised authentic, down-to-earth, pragmatic leadership. With a degree in communication studies and politics, her leadership approach has seen her navigate the 2019 Christchurch Mosque Shootings, the pandemic, and the Whakaari/White Island volcano eruption – responding with empathy and grace. In 2018 she made history by becoming the first world leader to bring her baby – just a few months old – to the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

We have all watched her from around the world. There have been many memorable quotes from her since she became the world’s youngest female head of government in 2017. I have personally used many of these quotes in leadership training. She has been a true role model, and for those sessions I take with women, reflecting on how she communicates gives them the confidence that they are good enough without having to reinvent themselves into a perceived image of leadership. Here are just a few quotes, take your pick!

  • “Leadership is not necessarily being the loudest in the room but instead being the bridge, or the thing which is missing in the discussion and building a consensus from there.”
  • “It takes courage and strength to be an empathetic, and I’m very proudly an empathetic and compassionate leader.”
  • “Do you want to be a leader who looks back in time and says that you were on the wrong side of the argument when the world was crying out for a solution?”
  • “One of the criticisms I have faced over the years is that I am not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”

In politics, and in many organisations, an ingrained stereotype of what a leader should look like – autocratic, transactional leader – remains like a toxic comfort blanket. It’s the way things have always been done and we seem addicted to this. In politics and political organisations, we have all seen the fight for the top role and then the clinging to it via whatever means necessary. Headlines of bullying, misogyny, lies, and harassment in the media, and passive-aggressive behaviours by those in leadership roles. Highly questionable judgements play out, some in public and others hidden behind closed doors when the principal aim is to protect organisational reputation.

In the world of health and safety we know that good work is good for us all. When people are working in an environment where they feel safe they will be more productive, switched on and bring their whole selves to what they do. From here we will come together to solve the most complex problems the world is currently facing.

Jacinda Ardern showed us all it was ok to be our authentic selves. She showed women it is ok to be who we are, to dress how we want to, and to speak how we want to speak. She worked hard and got the job done with flair and compassion. She also made an impact in the mental health agenda and in 2019 created a so-called Wellbeing Budget.

True, respected leaders do not seek power, they set out to make a difference. They are able to articulate a vision and move it into reality by empowering and enabling those around them to be the best they can be, starting from wherever they are now.

Jacinda Arden was the epitome of a purpose-driven leader. She gave it her all and when she felt she had done the best she could she made the decision to step down.

Globally, Health and Safety statistics in respect of what we all care about speak for themselves. In the so-called developed nations, at best, we have plateaued in some areas; all nations and territories are currently gripped by a mental health crisis. We need the right leaders in the right places if we are going to be the influence we want to see in the world. We cannot achieve transformation in the issues we all care about until we reflect on ourselves, dig deep and lift up others to be the best they can be.

Louise Hosking is Director & Founder of Hosking Assoc & the OneWISH Coalition.

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Pat Woker
Pat Woker
1 year ago

Interesting that we are looking at this from what was projected rather than perhaps what actually happened. Of course there are things to commend, but there are many in New Zealand who would not agree with the way she locked down the whole country for a virus that was no worse than the flu, how she discriminated against people who did not or couldn’t to take a vaccine that was still experimental, showed no efficacy and has caused an unduly high number of serious adverse effects and many of those lost there jobs and livelihoods because of that. The fact… Read more »