Why I Love Jacinda Ardern: Leader With Heart And Steel

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Who can forget the image of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, dressed in black, wearing a hijab, weeping with and consoling the members of grieving Muslim families, after the brutal terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, on March 15, 2019? Her compassion and empathy sent a strong message of stoicism. She followed it up with a swift ban on assault weapons. Here was a leader with both heart and steel.

When she was elected prime minister in 2017, at 37, Jacinda was the youngest female head of government. She gave birth to her daughter Neve while holding office, took six weeks off for maternity leave, and took her child to the United Nations General Assembly. In the process, she became a global icon for young mothers juggling work and family. In the six years that she was at the helm, she faced multiple challenges like a deadly volcanic explosion, an economic crisis and a global pandemic. She handled the last with such quick action that New Zealand suffered a lower death toll than most nations. Jacindamania gripped the nation, and the world over too, there was much admiration for this effective leader.

So, when Ardern announced that she was standing down, it sent waves of shock. Many attributed it to the downslide in her popularity, threats to her life, an expected negative outcome of forthcoming elections, and so on. Only, Ardern said the unexpected. “I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple,” she said. Ardern was clearly burnt out, or was heading there.

Why I Love Jacinda Ardern

How many of us have been there and experienced that? We are not heads of state. We may not be running a nation, but we all have our own little battles to fight, day after day. We work ten hours, we go without sleep, we are pulled from all sides, our bodies give off signals to slow down, we have brain fog, and we come to a space where we feel spent. Yet some of us pay no heed and drag our bodies on empty till we come to a forced, screeching halt.

We forget what Jacinda remembered—that we are human. That we hurt, wear out, and need a time out or plain out.

Some of us drag on because we have goals to achieve or promises to keep or because it is expected of us, or because of our FOMO or simply because we cannot let go. Saying no and acknowledging that we no longer have the juice to plod on requires wisdom, humility, and the gumption to wake up and smell the coffee. Jacinda has managed to do that. At a moment she felt was right. In a way that was candid and clear, without frills, but not without emotion. In a choked voice, fighting tears, Jacinda made a difficult but necessary choice. She made peace with her circumstances.

She wants to be around when her daughter starts school. Her partner, she concedes and appreciates, has made sacrifices. She wants to get married. Jacinda has chosen the simple pleasures of life that are often overlooked. She has chosen herself.

With her stepping down, Jacinda has displayed exemplary leadership. “We give as much as we can for as long as we can and then it’s time,” she said. How can we not relate to that? She wants to be remembered, “as someone who always tried to be kind”. This once, Ardern has been kind to herself. She has shown us the way. This is what it means to live an authentic life. Bravo!

Views expressed are the author’s own.

Archana Pai Kulkarni is an Independent Book Editor with SheThePeople.

Suggested Reading: Jacinda Ardern’s Resignation: Gender And The Toll Of Compassionate Leadership


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