Our leaders should follow Jacinda Ardern’s example
LAST Friday represented a tragic and dark day in the history of New Zealand.
While this has undoubtedly shaken the Pacific nation, there is a beacon of light in the form of their Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.
For all the criticism she has faced about being the youngest world leader and the intense scrutiny of her ability to lead a nation after giving birth (heaven forbid!), her current performance should quell the critics, once and for all.
Leadership is crucial under any circumstances and it is really put to the test when an organisation or nation is experiencing a serious threat. It doesn't get more serious than a terrorist attack in which human lives and national security are at stake.
Jacinda Ardern's response to the New Zealand terrorist attack was swift, powerful and courageous.
Her first press conference set the tone of her leadership style and was a crucial demonstration of authentic leadership. Her delivery at this first press conference did far more than outline a report of what had unfolded on Friday, March 15.
She called the attack for what it was, "an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence", and denounced it in the strongest terms, but devoted most of the conference to what, in the future, will be far more vital - instilling confidence and hope in the minds and hearts of the New Zealand people.
She was measured in what she said and exuded precision and strength in her responses to the media. Despite the assembled journalists asking questions that appeared to steer her to the theory that the alleged terrorist had "slipped under the radar" or the implication that this act could have somehow been prevented, she brought them back to the known facts, firmly, decisively and respectfully.
Of course, the analysis on "why and how this could have happened" will be important in the future. However, at this moment Jacinda Ardern has a more vital role to establish - the hallmark of her leadership for the future. She stood proudly as a New Zealander and embarked on re-establishing the confidence and heart of the nation. She is at this time what the people of New Zealand most want and need - a decisive, strong and compassionate leader to guide and inspire them out of this tragic and frightening event in the nation's history.
The language Jacinda Ardern used when addressing the people of New Zealand reinforced what constituted the heart of New Zealand.
"We represent diversity, kindness and compassion … a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it and I assure you that those values cannot and will not be shaken by this attack. You may have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you," she said on Friday. Her words and body language clearly and genuinely said "we stand together with you and for you, we remain here together in this community of New Zealand". In the words of ABC journalist Annabel Crabb, Jacinda Ardern is "holding a wounded nation together".
Leadership is more than words, it is how leaders behave which builds trust and confidence in people. Jacinda Ardern demonstrated a powerful example of respect and compassion for the victims of this terrorist attack. Yes, she comforted them with her words, but most importantly she met with the victims and their families and at that moment, it seemed, she had all the time on the world for them. No-one could have doubted her authenticity. Yes, she seems to understand there is a lot to be done in the wake of this terrorist attack but she has also demonstrated that she will do what is most important to victims, their families and citizens of New Zealand right now too.
The world needs more leaders like Jacinda Ardern. She represents a brand of courage, which cannot be fabricated or easily replicated. In a world awash with social media we have become used to the notion that anyone can be anything and to "fake it until you make it" is the currency of the 21st century leadership. The truth is authenticity is not a "thing" that can be manufactured, it is the act of "being", and can be seen in how someone responds in real time. If an individual wishes to be a compassionate, kind, loving, honest person, he or she must ensure that each and every day words and behaviour must be firmly aligned to reflect the nature of his or her character. This is exactly what Jacinda Ardern is doing and if by chance she ceases to be authentic, the New Zealand people will know and call her on it. Australia's politicians could learn a valuable lesson from this woman.
Dr Julie Crews is a business ethicist who teaches at the Edith Cowan University in Western Australia.