What we can learn from Jacinda Ardern

by Shari Graydon

Chutzpah and humility are a rare but precious combination.

It takes the first to run for Prime Minister at 37.

It takes the second to have the self-awareness to bow out after six years — despite earning international accolades for leading through a pandemic, mass murder and volcanic eruption — because you’ve candidly assessed your capacity and believe that someone else on your team will be better equipped to lead your party to victory in the next election.

Much will be written about Jacinda Ardern’s leadership. The BBC article linked below quotes the Australian PM as appreciating her “intellect, strength and empathy”, and New Zealand’s opposition leader as recognizing that she gave “her all to this incredibly demanding job”.

But what I think resonated with many people, both in NZ and around the world, was that she manifested unparalleled authenticity and grace.

She was both unapologetically in charge and deeply human. She demonstrated strength in vulnerability.

She brought to the role many of the qualities that have been historically denigrated by patriarchal values, and made clear how valuable they are.

In the process, she reinforced the critical importance of more gender-balanced governing.

When asked what she hoped her legacy would be, she did not cite the accomplishments that earned her global attention, but said,

“I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind, but strong, empathetic, decisive, optimistic but focused. And that you can be your own kind of leader – one who knows when it’s time to go.”

Making decisions on a daily basis that have massive implications for the lives of the citizens you serve is enormously difficult.

And being able to acknowledge your limitations, not just privately, but publicly? That’s genuine #leadership.

Politics shouldn’t be a life sentence.

We would all benefit from more leaders able to do what Jacinda Ardern has done.