Jacinda Ardern – zeitgeist leadership that humanity is craving.
“Humans have subdued 75 per cent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness. Our mistakes are legion, but our talent is immeasurable.” Diane Ackerman
There was the Industrial Age, which saw seismic changes in how labour and capital were deployed. Then the Information Age, characterised by a rapid shift from traditional industry to an economy based on information technology. The digital revolution and knowledge economy now needs to cede to a new Age. The Human Age. The Human Age demands helping people to upskill and adapt to a fast-changing world of work and this will be the defining challenge of our time. It risks polarising humanity in to those with the right skills who will increasingly hold the power, call the shots, create opportunities and choose how, where and when they work. And those without, who will look to the future and not be able to see how their circumstances will improve. This may be the first time that younger generations face bleaker prospects economically, socially and environmentally than their parents.
The world faces complex and wicked problems. Change has become exponential and non-linear and our organisations and how we lead them have simply not kept up. The way we work, the way we treat our people, the competencies required of leaders, the metrics we track and the things we value – none of these things have changed fast enough. Toxic “command and control” cultures that embed fear, micromanagement, disengagement, unethical conduct and conflict are all too common and enduring. As is leadership based on self-interest, profit, ego and short-term gain. And we have rewarded this.
What has to change? We know that doing the same thing the same way (but harder) and expecting a different outcome is a definition of insanity, or stupidity, you choose! First and foremost, leaders have to change, or get out. I think this why Ardern’s leadership during the Christchurch terrorist massacre has captured the world’s heart, reflecting a zeitgeist or “spirit of the times” defined as an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch in world history. I posted on LinkedIn the following comment accompanied by the image of her wearing a scarf whilst meeting with victims to reflect my deep admiration of her conduct:
“Jacinda Ardern. Within the last twenty-four hours, she has only used inclusive language full of humanity and belonging. When asked by President Trump what America could do to help NZ, she replied show compassion and support to Muslim communities. She has chosen to wear the Hijab in a mark of respect. She is the youngest female head of government, a mother, a woman who has shown what leadership should like. Courageous, fiercely intelligent and authentic. She is a beacon of hope in these increasingly dark times. Thank you, Jacinda, for showing us what is possible.“
I woke up the next morning to over 1 million views. Why did this post resonate so strongly? Because globally, humanity is craving a new style of leadership, in our very souls. Of our nations, institutions and organisations. We are afraid, afraid of the divisiveness and superficiality we see daily in politics, of geopolitical unrest, of climate change, of extreme ideologies taking hold, of going to work in places that rob of us of dignity and respect, of the consequences of a pervasive failure in leadership. And we fear that we helped to create this mess. Through admiring and endorsing charismatic charm and glib sound bites over substance and authenticity, through promoting the wrong traits, through our tolerance of hate and manufactured conflict between different groups in society, through our indifference to becoming involved and acting against what we know to be wrong. It is indeed true that humanity’s mistakes are legion, but our talent is immeasurable. How will we now collectively choose to use that talent?
Ardern’s leadership has tapped in to a global zeitgeist – we, the people, need and deserve more from our leaders. Ardern has embodied values that resonate deeply within us – genuine compassion, empathy, authenticity including acknowledgement of imperfection, risk taking grounded in decency, decisiveness and love. Yes, love. This emotion has been too long absent from leadership. The thing that makes a leader remarkable isn’t their ability to achieve results. It’s their ability to achieve results with heart. True leaders have servant’s hearts. In these uncertain, turbo-charged times, we need leaders with heart and intellect to inspire and engage more than ever. Leading your employees is a natural outgrowth of loving them. The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference and self-interest. Fear is debilitating and it drives us to act in stupid ways because we’re afraid of being stupid. Arms-length leadership is neither inspiring nor compelling and our leaders must love courageously to truly gain the commitment and trust of others.
Ardern has reflected a new leadership manifesto for the 21st Century, the Human Age. One that allows people to bring their whole selves to work, transforming human capital in to human talent, and that honours wellbeing as a person’s core purpose. It is time to bring our hearts and minds to work. She has also shown that we can dare to hope for, even demand, more from those who choose to lead. We can no longer afford to tolerate any less if we are to leave a better world for our children.
The Human Psychology SPIRIT Leadership series provides learning for leaders to think in new ways, change behaviour and thereby improve wellbeing, engagement, performance and productivity as human metrics in their teams and organisations. True leadership requires a level of personal transformation on the continuum of self, spirit, and service.