Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, drew flak on Twitter for taking a selfie with a crowd of people, disregarding social distancing guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ardern, who was among the world's first leaders to be able to contain the spread of the pandemic in their countries in the beginning, has been vocal in her stance for the necessity of maintaining distance to curb the virus, which led to many social media users calling her out for this supposed hypocrisy. Showing true leadership, Ardern didn't hesitate to issue an apology for her oversight and has acknowledged her mistake.
Ardern was reportedly campaigning for the upcoming October elections, near Massey University at Palmerston North, New Zealand, when students and other fans spotted her and flooded out to greet her. Apparently, she did ask the crowd to step away, but ultimately caved in for a sunny selfie. Consequently, when social media got hold of the picture, people pointed out that the PM was huddling with her fans without any safety norms in place. National leader Judith Collins too criticised her.
Politician David Seymour pointed this out with the Hospitality businesses can't make money at Level 2 because of single server and social distancing rules. Meanwhile, the person responsible for the rules is self-serving and not social distancing. pic.twitter.com/4HUMKJNkU4
Hospitality businesses can't make money at Level 2 because of single server and social distancing rules. Meanwhile, the person responsible for the rules is self-serving and not social distancing. pic.twitter.com/4HUMKJNkU4— David Seymour (@dbseymour) September 18, 2020 below:
Hospitality businesses can't make money at Level 2 because of single server and social distancing rules. Meanwhile, the person responsible for the rules is self-serving and not social distancing. pic.twitter.com/4HUMKJNkU4— David Seymour (@dbseymour) September 18, 2020
Jacinda Ardern Apologises, Like A True Leader
Admitting her mistake, Ardern reportedly said, "In that particular photo I made a mistake... Yes, I should have moved further forwards and I should have asked them to step apart as well... and I acknowledge that." She added, "I sanitise. I wear my mask in Auckland, and I work hard to try and keep my social distance... It is hard. I will keep up, as I have, those awkward moments where I refuse to shake hands."
If it counts for anything, Ardern's apology reflects that she has more spine than most world leaders of her stature. Since the beginning of her tenure, she has been touted as a game-changing Prime Minister, one who is personally empathetic to the needs of her country, and this instance is just another reaffirmation of the same belief. There was no attempt to cover-up the blunder, nor was there a defensiveness about it. Just a simple, direct ownership of her mistake. How many leaders can we expect such easy accountability from?
Ardern knows there are eyes of all ages and nationalities and backgrounds watching her. And so, in issuing an apology - over a hurdle that may have seemed like a minuscule matter to other leaders - she reinforced the importance of social distancing as the need of the hour, to everyone who looks up or looks down to her. In doing so, she also expressed a sort of confidence with her country's citizens that she was as human as them to make the blunder of not distancing socially, and that this virus doesn't estimate colour, politics or power of positions.
Jacinda Ardern And Her Leadership
Ardern is generally understood as a people's leader, committed to the cause of her country without sitting on a high horse, often mingling with them in person and acquainting herself with their troubles. Which perhaps explains her position as New Zealand's most popular PM in a century. With a steady calm, she has shown that it is as easy to smile on an interview through an earthquake - so as to quell the alarm of the people - as is the task of tackling COVID-19 with swift, level-headed measures. Remember when Ardern made a national declaration to the kids of New Zealand that the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy were “essential workers” and would continue to work amidst the pandemic?
The coronavirus pandemic has proved time and again the importance of women leaders in politics and management of a country. Forbes reported that the countries handling the coronavirus emergency best had just one thing in common – women leaders. Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan, Angela Merkel in Germany – all were quick to respond to the crisis and able to adequately provide for their countries with acumen and empathy.
Views expressed are the author's own.