Jacinda Ardern: Leading with Empathy by Supriya Vani, Carl A. Harte, An Excerpt

Jacinda Ardern Biography, Jacinda Ardern: Leading with Empathy
Jacinda Ardern BiographyJacinda Ardern: Leading with Empathy by Supriya Vani, Carl A. Harte explores the influences that have shaped Jacinda and made her a leader with a different way of doing things. An excerpt from the chapter titled ‘Ambition or Ambivalence?’

For career women, Jacinda Ardern’s rise to the summit of political life is a case study, because the challenges she has encountered are so very familiar. Unlike a number of women outliers holding office, Ardern hasn’t compromised her personality to suit her career; she hasn’t become ‘masculinised’. Assertive and effective in politics, she invokes a style that a broad spectrum of people, of both sexes, may seek in coming generations: the strong woman – as opposed to the strongman – who embodies astuteness, along with the ability to bring opposing forces together for a greater goal.

So much the better. Seeking counsel, weighing options with others to determine the most appropriate course of action beyond the limits of one’s experience and personal conviction, doesn’t sit well with a patriarch. It may be a woman leader’s very essence, a strong suit that allows her flexibility to adapt to new or unforeseen circumstances. Absolute certainty and self-assurance could well be the ‘strongman’ politician’s weakness, rather than strength.

Although Jacinda Ardern is a confident, strong woman, absolute self-assurance is not one of her character traits. This is where so many can relate to her, and learn from her rise to power. Ardern demonstrates that one doesn’t need preternatural self-possession and an absence of self-doubt to succeed. Most people struggle with confidence issues, self-doubt or anxiety. Many of us have misgivings about fulfilling our potential, as well.

Few, however, share their struggles so openly, and in public, as Jacinda Ardern has done; fewer still in positions of power.

‘I’m constantly anxious about making mistakes. Everything in politics feels so fragile,’ she told a magazine interviewer. ‘I do live in constant fear of what might be,’ she says, acknowledging that her anxiety is ‘just who I am’. Her honesty, her frankness about such a personal issue is remarkable, almost unprecedented in politics.

At least as remarkable, in the upper echelons of public life, is Ardern’s lack of cut-throat ambition. From the time she was touted as a leadership prospect for the Labour Party and a potential prime minister, she voiced her ambivalence towards assuming office. This is hardly unusual in politics: most politicians deny their ambitions emphatically, until the very hour of their leadership challenge. Ardern’s qualms about New Zealand’s ‘top job’, however, are sincere.

In a radio interview in June 2014, she described the prime ministership as an ‘awful, awful job’, and she meant it. Earlier, she had told a reporter that Helen Clark ‘had to give up everything’ for her position – and she was not willing to do likewise. She had ‘no desire’ to be prime minister.

Ardern’s experience of Clark’s tenure, and the strain of her mentor’s last successful election campaign in 2005, had left their mark. She describes that election year as ‘extraordinarily stressful’. So stressful was it that her OE was as much a sabbatical as a means of broadening her horizons. She might have nurtured teenage ambitions of running the country, but her encounter with the ninth floor of the Beehive had left her cold.

It seems she was scotching any likelihood of her becoming prime minister by talking of her anxiety – shooting her prospects in the foot, as it were. A ministerial post would be more than enough for her, she had concluded – one where she could pursue policies for the betterment of children and families. In addition, she and Clarke Gayford wished to have a family of their own, and they were trying to conceive.

Perhaps there was one other factor holding Ardern back from taking high office, one so familiar to professional women. It is often referred to as the ‘confidence gender gap’, though the gap itself might have less to do with confidence and more with masculine bravado. For his testosterone level, daring or sheer foolhardiness, a man might seek a promotion well beyond his level of competence. He might take a swing at the seemingly impossible and in doing so, even find success. Women, however, as Ardern notes, have a ‘natural tendency … to wait until they have every skill required’ before they put themselves forward for a higher position. She cites as an example Helen Clark’s own ‘questioning whether she had the credentials to … go and work at the UN’.4 That is, after she had been a successful prime minister for three terms in her own country!

Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins India from JACINDA ARDERN: Leading with Empathy by Supriya Vani and Carl A. Harte

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