There are things that I learned and absorbed early on in life. If I was asked to elaborate who taught me these things, and how, perhaps all I can give you is a blank stare, but these are lessons that are keenly felt and deeply embedded within my psyche.
I wanted to talk about one such kernel of learning today: the idea of how leader should behave, even when faced with adverse circumstances.
A leader should basically be lithely democratic enough for the followers to embrace the leader wholeheartedly. It should seem as if the leader does not utilize that one stool to stand atop of it even when the leader knows for a fact that no one else, among the mass, has an access to the stool. A leader therefore ought to ultimately be ‘one of the people’.
We have seen numerous leaders over the years. Some of them have been questionable. However, sometimes the spotlight falls on good, capable leaders, and that gives us the opportunity to talk about how good leadership works in practice.
Taking the last few months into account, we can safely say that Jacinda Ardern, the youngest female prime minister in the world, does deserve this kind of spotlight, and thus should be talked about. I hate to use female before prime minister, because she is a prime minister regardless of her gender. But this detail will probably be important for the history books, so it’s there all the same.
PM Jacinda Ardern displayed many exemplary characteristics while dealing with the Christchurch fallout. After the attack she meticulously and effectively called it for what it was; a terrorist attack. She had the facts and she took steps accordingly. She made good on her promise and revamped the country’s gun laws following the incident.
While she worked tirelessly on changing gun laws, she also made it a point to not engage with other world leaders, keeping them at bay at an amicable distance. She remained stalwart despite the waves of anti-Muslim sentiments (along with other opinions) blanketing the global news cycle for days on end. She focused her attention on the job she had been elected to do: attending to the needs of her country.
Instead of ducking blame, Ardern interacted with the media by herself at her own pace.
She addressed the terrorist directly, saying, “You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.”
“He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them,” Ardern said during an address to the New Zealand Parliament. “He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing — not even his name.”
Her steadfast and witty actions not only were full of heart but they have been lauded by many in the following days. Oprah Winfrey among others markedly exclaimed that her leadership ought to be the global standard. In an interview last year, Ardern voiced that an empathetic leader is harder to be for it requires great strength, in response to other leaders allegedly calling her ‘weak’ as a leader.
The fact that Ardern is a woman is not lost among the media praising her actions, highlighting her empathetic actions in light of her belonging to the fairer sex. However, perhaps some attention should also be paid to her upbringing. Raised by a police officer and a school cafeteria worker, Ardern has displayed a strong sense of service that goes above and beyond many of her peers’ own sense of duty.
A leader and a mother, Ardern has resisted the urge to give into war rhetoric, which has been the go to response since George W. Bush promised vengeance in the wake of 9/11.
Even more remarkably, she has decidedly gone against the option of otherizing the perpetrator. Instead of painting an ‘us vs them’ picture that leaders are wont to do in a post 9/11 landscape, Ardern has focused on drawing a line between what she can do as New Zealand’s Prime Minister and what depends on the global community as a whole.
“My call would be a global one,” Ardern replied to a BBC interviewer, when asked if she was concerned about the rise of white nationalism in New Zealand. “I’m very clear here to make the distinction that yes, this was an Australian citizen, but that is not to say that we do not have ideology in New Zealand that would be an affront to the majority of New Zealanders, that would be utterly rejected by the majority, the vast majority of New Zealanders. But we still have a responsibility to weed it out where it exists and make sure that we never create an environment where it can flourish. But I would make that a global call.”
Ardern’s stoic resolve has earned her the respect of many. On March 22, her face was projected on Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. “Thank you PM @jacindaardern and New Zealand for your sincere empathy and support that has won the respect of 1.5 billion Muslims after the terrorist attack that shook the Muslim community around the world,” Dubai’s prime minister Sheikh Mohammed wrote on Twitter.
Of course, a leader has to be judged on other metrics in addition to her actions during a crisis. However, Ardern’s conduct during these trying times have solidified her mettle as a leader.
She has established a new blueprint for dealing with national tragedies: she grieved, deliberated and acted, all with the consent and participation of her people.
It’s unclear at this point how far Ardern can go when it comes to dealing with gun laws, or with other issues faced by her administration. For now, though, it’s safe to say that the world is in her corner.