Reflection on Leadership: Jacinda Ardern


In the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attack (the perpetrator of which is now charged with 50 counts of murder and 39 counts of attempted murder), all eyes fell on the quiet, small country of New Zealand for many reasons. One of which was the strikingly brilliant approach their Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, took throughout the whole ordeal. But, really, should it have made headlines?

The more I think about it, the more I consider that Ardern’s response was not all that spectacular. Admittedly, as those who read my posts following the incident would know, even I was praising her for her outstanding response to a crisis that would rock any nation. But a few weeks later, it’s become obvious to me now after the heightened emotions and headlines that there was nothing overly amazing about her actions. It’s a slow realisation that suddenly clicked yesterday, when yet more articles showed up announcing she had paid the groceries of a mother who had forgotten her wallet.

What is it that is so great about all these things that Ardern and her government has done these last few weeks? To put it simply: she acted like a human being.

When tragedy strikes, politicians love to give statements. Those statements are by no means unwelcome or false (in most cases), but that is generally all they tend to be. Either spoken to written words sending condolences and/or condemning whatever had taken place, some action if it is required – like our government assisting investigations as the terrorist was Australian-born. That’s the extent of it though, usually.

Not Ardern.

Yes, she gave numerous statements and had a number of interviews, like the rather emotional one with Waleed Aly (whose own response to this event made me not totally detest the commercial media commentator). But her actions and emotions were raw and human, not the methodical and distant motions we are accustomed to from our leaders.

You saw her face and heard her voice and the pain reflected that of a nation hurting, and of a human personally grieving. She showed solidarity with her people not just through scripts and token appearances, but by donning a headscarf and connecting with the communities directly.

She didn’t call for a debate about gun ownership laws, wasting time and ramping up the political goldmine like we see the US do too many times. Action was immediate and logical, with a clear intent, and it was accepted graciously.

Even something so simple as the fact she was out grocery shopping – never mind the helping hand she lent to the other lady – rather than having some assistant handle it. It’s genuine and it’s human.

When did the standard of leadership fall so low that mere humanity becomes a remarkable achievement? Should all leaders not be held to the same standard? Ardern is perceived as wonderful not because she specifically is worthy of that perception (it goes without saying that she is though), but because what we have all accepted as the norm for leadership is such a shamefully denigrating low.

Ardern is a human first, a leader second, and a politician last. The world could do with more humans in power – imagine how much more beautiful a world we could create.


Liked this? Read Why Hearing About New Zealand’s Response to Christchurch is Important

Previous piece: Trump “News” vs Actual News

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