10 December, 2022


Ardern’s Impressive Re-Election: Lessons On Positive Leadership Beyond Kiwi Borders!

By Mohamed Harees –

Lukman Harees

Jacinda Ardern indeed is a global superstar, who won her second term as Prime Minister for her Labour Party, with an historically impressive margin over her National Party (Conservative) rivals in the recent election in New Zealand, thus setting her country on her own radical course. Ardern’s Labour now have enough votes to govern without a coalition partner – something that’s unheard of in her country. The result, which was lambasted as a “total disaster” for the opposition, was so strong it “defied logic” given New Zealand’s voting system almost always lead to coalitions. Many commentators believe this could be a high water mark for Labour. Serving as prime minister only since 2017, she has certainly made her mark on the world stage beyond Kiwi borders.

Jacinda Ardern

Analysts credited her effective Covid-19 pandemic strategy for saving Labour’s campaign; the success of Ardern’s handling of the pandemic was evident in the Kiwis partying shoulder-to-shoulder on election night as many countries head into another  lockdown. The charismatic young leader has been tested like no other leader worldwide in the last three years. Her strong and empathetic leadership style came into prominence during the Christchurch terror attacks, then during White Island eruption, and afterwards in the on-going Covid-19 pandemic and resultant economic fallout. Her response to all of the above has been internationally feted. That popularity and international media praise, solidified her celebrity status. 

She may not have a cake walk in meeting her immediate challenges to re-engage with the rest of the world, after her country remains effectively sealed off because of the pandemic and also transform international goodwill into investment for a country depending much on international tourism. But with many in other countries’ seeing her as a counterpoint to US’ Trump, Ardern will continue to exude her positive leadership image which should hopefully make her to act as a role model for leaders around the world, providing apt lessons and examples. 

It is not the size of one’s chest that matters. It is the moral standing that defines one’s person. Ardern has shown that she could be small only in terms of heading a small country but she is above all in human and moral values. Her leadership was legendary. Of course, we cannot compare country to country as circumstances and situations differ. But the way its prime minister responded to crisis situations holds out lessons in leadership. In an interview to Time magazine, Ardern aptly summed up what leaders can do in times of trouble: “When voters feel powerless and disenfranchised, we can either stoke it with fear and blame, or we can respond to it by taking some responsibility and giving some hope that our democratic institutions, our politicians, actually do something about what they’re feeling.” By providing a type of leadership that combined strength, inclusivity and compassion, Ardern, prime minister of a tiny island nation, thus became an international celebrity and a model for leaders elsewhere.

In the space of less than a year, she was confronted with three grave situations — a mass shooting by an extremist in two mosques in Christchurch killing 51 people on March 15, 2019; a deadly volcano that erupted on December 9, 2019; and this global virus in early 2020.As recent as the public health crisis caused by COVID-19 it brought into sharp focus the vital importance of leadership. This pandemic crisis was of course unprecedented and each nation has devised its own strategy to tackle the dreaded virus. However, the one essential requirement to deal with and overcome any crisis was effective leadership, be it at the local, state, national or global level. In this context, the leadership displayed by Prime Minister Ardern has been exemplary. She did not indulge in blame games, but came to grips with real issues. 

How Ardern dealt with the Christchurch shooting incident in particular is worth recalling. At the time the shooting took place, she was travelling in a van to visit a school in the town of New Plymouth. As soon as she was informed about the incident, what she did. was something unusual for a prime minister. She did not give instructions to any of her ministers or officers to go to the spot and deal with the situation. She asked the van to be turned back, drove to the nearest police station, and closeted herself in a room with an aide. In between calls apprising her of the developing situation, she scribbled her thoughts on a piece of paper. After an hour, she rushed to a rural hotel and with a makeshift arrangement for a broadcast, the young prime minister delivered her message to the people of her country.

As reported in the media, recalling this tragedy Ardern later said, “I just remember feeling this overwhelming sense of, here are people who have made New Zealand their home. Regardless of whether someone had been in New Zealand for a generation or whether they moved here a year ago, this was their home, and they should have been safe and they should have been able to worship here, and that was when I wrote down those words: they are us.” She further demonstrated her feelings by wearing a scarf and visiting a mosque, reassuring the Muslims in her country that she was one among them. Ardern then exhibited another trait of her strong character and conviction. She refused to reveal the name of the shooter and called a spade a spade- she referred to the killer as a terrorist without mincing her words. She also called for a meeting of heads of key European states and technology companies like Facebook and YouTube and sought their cooperation to prevent the spread of extremism and hatred online. 

Ardern found the strength and understanding to give voice to a wounded nation’s horror and grief. Her address at a remembrance service in Christchurch for victims of the mosque attacks rose far above the merely dutiful. It was inspiring, consoling and defiant in equal measure. Thus, unexpectedly faced by an appalling atrocity, she showed exemplary leadership skills. Her instinct was to trust her humanity and the humanity of others. By quickly moving to meet, embrace and comfort the bereaved, by wearing the hijab, by taking swift action on gun control and by refusing to acknowledge the killer, she brought out the best in her fellow citizens. What could have become an ugly slugfest of recrimination and blame, fuelling hatred as the attacker hoped, became instead a moment when a nation came together, honoured its differences, accepted its failings and united behind a future vision of a land where bigotry and racism are not welcome. “The answer lies in our humanity,” Ardern said. “We each hold the power – in our words, in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness. Let that be the legacy of the 15th of March, 2019”.

Martin Luther King said genuine leaders did not search for consensus but moulded it, Suzanne Moore wrote in the British paper the Guardian: “Ardern has moulded a different consensus, demonstrating action, care, unity. Terrorism sees difference and wants to annihilate it. Ardern sees difference and wants to respect it, embrace it and connect with it.” The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor wrote that “Ardern has become the face of her nation’s sorrow and grief, and its resolve”. Annabel Crabb wrote on the ABC Australia website that “having been confronted with the worst news a leader can receive… Ms Ardern has yet to put a foot wrong”. Grace Back put it simply in Marie Claire Australia: “This is what a leader looks like.”

Ardern did not pretend to have all the answers. As in other countries, ignorance, prejudice and intolerance, fomenting social division and political extremism cannot be wholly eliminated. But in confronting these evils in so compelling, uncompromising a manner, New Zealand’s prime minister set a global standard that national leaders everywhere should follow. At present, too many do the opposite, purposefully exploiting fear of the other for narrow political ends – or simply because they, too, are ignorant and prejudiced. She emerged as the progressive antithesis to right-wing strongmen like Trump, and Modi, whose careers thrive on illiberal, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

On December 9, 2019, New Zealand witnessed the eruption of a volcano in White Island, a tourist spot, killing nine people and injuring about 30. Ardern reached out to the affected families saying she knew “there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those loved ones at the island at that time” and assured them of quick rescue and relief operations. In dealing with coronavirus, when the cases of infection started rising in her country, she declared a lockdown, with a 48-hour notice before it took effect, saying that a pandemic required “a significant and coordinated response by and across central and local governments” and for citizens to minimise their contact by self-isolation. The police and civil defence personnel were adequately empowered to ensure public safety and to regulate the flow of food, fuel and essential supplies.

The empathetic woman in Ardern also came to the fore on other occasions too. She was one who became only the second head of government to give birth in office after Pakistan’s late former premier Benazir Bhutto. She went to maternity leave while serving and returned to work after six weeks. In a world where women leaders are still in a hopeless minority, Ardern definitely is a woman who led the way in her own terms.

This charismatic Prime Minister was  giving even most Western politicians and also other world leaders, a masterclass in crisis leadership. But how can we assess Ardern’s leadership in making such difficult decisions? A good place to start is with American professors Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield’s research into effective leadership communication. The Mayfields’ research-based model highlights “direction-giving”, “meaning-making” and “empathy” as the three key things leaders must address to motivate followers to give their best. Of course, not everything has been perfect in New Zealand’s or Ardern’s COVID-19 response. But, Ardern’s response to COVID-19 for example, used all three approaches. In directing New Zealanders to “stay home to save lives”, she simultaneously offers meaning and purpose to what we are being asked to do. Through her unprecedented leadership capabilities, she was able to convince her people to act for the collective good. With her strength, empathy and commitment, Arden demonstrated leadership which serves as an example for others to follow as the pandemic continues to threaten lives across the globe.

Ardern’s statesmanship, or should it be states-womanship, has thus earned her iconic status as an extraordinarily exemplary world leader. Her youth, her sincerity, her unrivalled courage in such a difficult situation, has been hailed internationally as the only way ahead, to stop violence and create global unity. The people of NZ rightly rewarded her with a well-deserved second term. In a world where positive political leadership is increasingly becoming rare, Ardern is a live example for all those leaders who aspire to unify their people with their empathetic and deep-from-heart messages. Will her leadership style and actions and the effect they had on her people, and people around the world, turn the tide? Can world leaders emulate her? Only time and sincerity of purpose will decide!

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Latest comments

  • 16

    Fortunately for the Kiwis, Ardern has no sycophants and brown-nosing flunkies to influence national policy. Therefore she has successfully steered her small country to a well-managed society. I find the article reasonable except that the writer is always tempted to highlight Muslims, he being one. It would have been better if he had written on general issues that impact everyone instead..

    • 10

      Indeed the truth. Our men in leadership are former high criminals. Yet today they have been sucking the last blood drop of the destitute who would dream for their 3 meals, also last week shameless Rajapakshe appointed his don be the the key person to PM office, whose funds are beings wasted if not poor man s tax money? No resistance in the media so as they cant yet arrest Baduudeen? ????????????????

    • 8

      Most of them living in NZ today are migrants coming from all over the world.

      So all or most of them have to respect the law and order as written in book, which is not the case in god punish SRILANKA, ruled by a bunch of rascals today.

      At least 55 % of the nation would think twice before calling the incumbent president with ” HIS EXCELLENCY” Or not.
      At least 55% of the nation would feel these were the MEN that roamed in COURT PREMISES all along, during the very recent past, being caught by huge allegations levels at them WITH PRIMA FACIES evidence exposed at least to most of them including – Thudjudeen Rugby player s highly misterious murder, speculated to have been committed by Rajakshes including MR s wife and his body guards.
      At least 55% of the nation would feel what happened to those allegations and crime investigations, today, not only of them, but also those of Jonsten, Aluthgamage, Abenguanrwardhana, Wimal Buruwanse and … the list would not cease its end easily..

      However, HOW LITTLE the people s MEMORIES are, THEY THEMSELVES let the allged high criminals to lead them today, HOW SHAMEFUL we should be as a nation, can we be comparable to KIWIS or more with those in Zimbabewe state under Mugabe ?????????????????????

    • 2

      It is a good article, but the Muslims cannot get out of their
      Shell and the Beard when they write articles of this nature.

  • 15

    Lukman says : In this context, the leadership displayed by Prime Minister Ardern has been exemplary. She did not indulge in blame games, but came to grips with real issues.
    Compare the evidence of our last President, shifting all the blame on officials he has appointed himself, at the PCoI recently.
    Sad indeed.

  • 9

    NZ is a true democracy. Jacinda Arden showed compassion when 50 Muslim citizens were massacred in a Mosque, she wore a shawl on her head and visited it.
    She also does not have ANY family member in her cabinet, or have issues with nepotism, like we have here, in abnormal numbers. She does not cater to the clergy, take orders from them, nor does she have extremists who support her. She does not pardon war criminals, or appoint crooks to high offices. She also has not made the media the enemy, or be the no. 1 suspect in any member of the media.

    Surely, we can see the huge difference between Jacinda Arden and the scum we have here? There is no comparison.

  • 4

    It is people that make the leaders of the country. Politicians always try to win and they study the mood of the people and play their tunes accordingly.
    IT IS ONLY THE STATESMAN WHO STRIKE TO THEIR OWN HIGH PRINCIPLES and steer the country in the right direction so that every one in that country are treated equally and all contribute the to well being of the country and its populace.
    In Srilanka we had many politicians of all hues BUT never , ever had a statesman to lead us. So we , the citizens are moulded to be racists, bigots, greedy like them. Unless and until we realise this and educate ourselves we are doomed.
    New Zealand had statesman in their short history and the people are generous and accommodating. That is why they have even elected a migrant woman from Srilanka to their parliament in the recent election, which will never happen in Srilanka.

  • 3

    Some comparisons.
    In 2016, Ardern (Labour) was lucky as she inherited a very healthy Treasury, thanks to 4 terms of Premier John Key’s National govt. John Key was a very wealthy investment banker and was Premier from 2008 to 2016. Of course Labour’s new policies could be implemented. But that was for the benefit of the public, unlike here to benefit a few.
    John Key, (University of Canterbury, Harvard University) had an estimated wealth of NZ$50 million making him the wealthiest New Zealand Member of Parliament. Most of his financial investments are held in a blind trust. He earned this BEFORE he entered Parliament.
    New Zealand’s trade with the rest of the world recorded a SURPLUS, for years of John Key, and for year ending March 2016 they earned $2.9 billion MORE from exports than on imports.
    But in 2019 – Ardern – (pre-Covid), New Zealand’s trade DEFICIT amounted to around 2.71 billion U.S. dollars.
    New Zealand has very good intelligent voters.
    Compare SL – Very sad.

  • 8

    None of the above. The correct answer is: New Zealand is a successful democracy because the judges are independent, the media is not subservient, the priests stay out of politics, and the people don’t genuflect before politicians.

  • 3

    Arden did not pretend to have all the answers. She build confidence built on accomplishment. Willing to change it within yourself first. If you achieve small and big goals, you’re going to feel much better about Everyone is able to contribute something great. But if you just sit back on your couch all day, you’re going to accomplish nothing. Where positive political leadership style and actions People don’t follow you because you are nice, they follow you because they believe the place you are taking them is better than the place they are nz is in good direction

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