Leading with empathy in the face of adversity
When the Prime Minister of New Zealand declares the tooth fairy and Easter bunny as an essential service, it brings warmth to the otherwise repeated drudgery of Government press conferences. It brings a smile to those facing the grind of lockdown and isolation – even if only for a moment.
“You’ll be pleased to know that we do consider both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers, but as you can imagine at this time, of course, they are going to be potentially quite busy at home with their family as well with their own bunnies.” Jacinda Ardern 6.04.2020
You can watch a short clip from the press conference here
Credit: Radio New Zealand
The way was paved long ago
Leading with warmth and heart is not a style of leadership that is learned and it does not appear overnight, you cannot pretend or try to switch it on. What was called an “Ardern effect” during her election campaign is now proven to be a signature style.
What she was once criticised for now defines her. Ardern has an undeniable charismatic ability to relate to people. This is what cements her as a leader, when things get tough and when really crappy things happen to us, she is there to be our strength when we can’t hold ourselves.
Her response to the mosque attacks showed the world who New Zealand is. I was at a mosque in Wellington when she arrived unannounced to express her condolences. While the spontaneous songs that erupted through the crowd were captured by the media, what was not captured is what I saw. I saw her slowly approach the building taking time to look at all of the chalk drawings on the footpath that local children had made. She then took the time to embrace a Muslim woman who audibly gasped in shock that she was there right in front of her and so close – this is the same woman who stood at the gate handing out tissues to us well-wishers and providing us support while we tried to process the incomprehensible act.
While the Imans’ and Muslim leaders were being strong for us, Ardern became their strength. The strength she provided was through human connection and a hug. Warmth and heart. The cameras weren’t there and that’s what really counts. Her values are inherent to her as a person, she does not switch them on and off.
COVID-19 Ardern style
When the COVID-19 viral filled cloud looked to be approaching our shores and spreading, Arden was met with a barrage of criticism from the opposing side. Their volleys were able to land while she held off pushing us further up the alert levels, knowing that level 3 and 4 would begin to impact the economy.
As soon as NZ showed a potential case of community transmission she acted. “Go hard and go early” was her slogan and it seemed to work. We closed the border and went into lockdown.
Next, the nay-sayers said we didn’t have enough test kits and that we weren’t doing enough testing. This was only a lag due to supply issues. As of yesterday, NZ has the highest testing rates per capita in the world.
Leading with empathy in the face of adversity is perhaps the toughest gig of all. But it didn’t take long for the measures to start to make an impact and NZ was soon revered worldwide as a leader in this situation.
We aren’t just flattening the curve, we’re smashing it.
How does she do it?
She stays cool, calm and collected but she never switches off her heart. She acts when required but won’t be bullied or pressured into pulling the trigger too soon. She has a few trusted advisers and what must be an epic home base to support her.
We can all take lessons from her style and not step into a persona at work. Be yourself 100% of the time and lead with compassion. Ardern provides the perfect template of an authentic leader in action.
This article is solely the work of the author. Any views expressed in it are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official policy of the New Zealand government or of any government agency.
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