Jacinda Ardern, a True Leader!

It is often said that when pols lose power, they wilt and crumple. They even mourn their vanished entourage and perks. It’s of course, obvious, for they were a little while ago ruling the roost and now sitting like a lame duck in their own bungalow where nothing happens. Loss of power even makes them freaked out. And, we have seen it happening recently on the world stage.

Much against this norm, on January 19, Ms Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister bravely announced her resignation stating,

I am leaving because with such a privileged role, comes responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not… I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do justice. It is that simple.

Holding back her tears, Ms Ardern — the world’s youngest female head of a government when she became Prime minister in 2017 at the age of 37 — said that February 7 will be her last working day in Prime Minister’s office. She even declared that she would not seek re-election when New Zealand goes to the polls on October 14. That is something unheard of in the world of realpolitik. Yet, there are, of course, the usual journalistic speculations aplenty about the real reason behind her resignation.

Maybe, anticipating such speculations, she even said: “I know there will be much discussion in the aftermath of this decision as to what the so-called real reason was”. She went on saying, “The only interesting angle you will find is that after going on six years of some big challenges, that I am human. Politicians are human. We give all that we can, for as long as we can, and then it’s time. And for me, it’s time. I’m not leaving because I believe we can’t win the election, but because I believe we can and will, and we need a fresh set of shoulders for that challenge.”

Her announcement simply stunned the world. For, seldom such a decision, that too, from a pretty young politician who proved to be a successful leader, ever heard of. The Australian Prime Minister, Mr Anthony Albanese, paid his tribute to Ms Ardern saying, she “has shown the world how to lead with intellect and strength…She has demonstrated that empathy and insight are powerful leadership qualities.”

True, Ardern was to navigate New Zealand through unprecedented times. Her response to the deadly Christchurch shootings at two mosques by a lone gunman that killed 51 people — “You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you”—has shown a model-antidote to the right-wing populism: she went to the grieving families wearing a hijab to mourn with them. Following the attack, she banned military-style semi-automatic firearms just within six days of the incident, besides passing a new law to curb hate speech.

Her calm and measured reaction to the volcanic explosive eruption in Whakaari/White Island in December 2019 which claimed 21 lives was equally praised by world leaders. Indeed, the photos of her hugging the first responders to comfort them became iconic. Obviously, her praise for them—“They have done an incredible job under devastating circumstances” —sounded pretty true to everyone.

Similarly, her handling the Covid-19 pandemic was proved to be exemplary. She closed the boundaries before a single case was detected and also made observation of quarantine requirements very stringent. As a result, the Covid19-related death rates in New Zealand turned out to be one of the lowest in the developed world. She handled the crisis with sensitivity, empathy and concern: she freely chatted with people on Facebook and shared reliable information and extended reassurance to all those who remained under forced isolation. This made her a darling of the citizens.

She had many firsts to her credit—she was the first leader to bring her baby to the United Nations General assembly meeting just a few months after Neve was born. Addressing the UNO, she made a pragmatic appeal to the members: “If we want the Council to fulfil its purpose of maintaining international peace and security, its practices need to be updated so it is not hamstrung by the use of the veto”. Exhorting the members “to step back from the chaos and ask what we want”, she assured them that the simple concept of “kindness” can guarantee them “peace, prosperity and fairness” to all.

It is this emphasis of her on “politics of kindness” and moral vision rather than political opportunism with a pronounced feminism that made her leadership a phenomenon called “Jacindamania”.

Now, announcing her resignation, she has simply proved to the world that even pols can do the right things at the right time! That aside, her talking about burnout, gave hope to those silent sufferers to talk about burnout at work without fear of the stigma whatsoever. Some psychologists even hope that such open discussion might even help employers to establish support mechanisms in the organizations to help employees successfully overcome burnout at work.  

Burnout is defined as physical and emotional exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation and lowered performance at work. According to APA, burnout “results from performing at a high level until stress and tension, especially from extreme and prolonged physical or mental exertion or an overburdening workload, take their toll”.   

Here it is essential to bear in mind that burnout is not a gendered condition. It can affect anyone. Yet, instead of addressing the problem squarely, business managers/leaders have widely stigmatized.

As against this reality, unfortunately, reacting to Jacinda’s remarks, misogynists are airing doubts about women’s ability to stand up to the demands of a high-profile leadership role. This is purely unscientific, for it is simply an “occupational phenomenon”.

Indeed, the bold assertion of Ms Jacinda Ardern should help people freely talk about the impact of burnout and come to terms with the fact that leaders are never meant to be “invincible, and emotionless”. Let us fondly hope that her bold leadership traits would become contagious …


More by :  Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty

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