Lessons in leadership and humility from Jacinda Ardern

We were heartbroken last week when NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern resigned, citing burn out. Not least because it means many of our ODV Digital social media best practice guides are now out of date (seriously, not only was Jacinda PM she was also a political social media queen). But more so because Ardern’s experience seemed to be such a depressing message to women in politics, especially mothers. 

Every working mother knows the exhaustion, the guilt of feeling unable to give enough of yourself to your kids or partner, the impossibility to find balance when, whatever choice you make, you are letting down somebody. Jacinda, who was so open and vulnerable about her personal life, is now showing that no matter how successful you are, or how much power you hold, those feelings don’t go away. Yet we rarely hear them expressed by men of a similar age, many of whom are also fathers. Does that mean fathers in politics don’t feel the burn out? Or they just don’t express it?

Then, the veiled misogynistic headlines began to roll out (“Can women really have it all?” opined the BBC) and it began to make us wonder: maybe this shouldn’t feel like a blow for women in politics. Maybe Ardern’s resignation should be a rallying call to all, in politics and beyond – to have the humility to admit when we’re finding our jobs too much; to chase success and power with a hunger, but to be prepared to let it go too, to recognise that even the most important jobs in the world are filled by human beings, with human pressures, families, emotional obligations. What if we were more empathetic to our politicians, to our leaders? What if they responded to that empathy with more openness, more humility, more pragmatism?

Last week it felt like it had just become harder to persuade women to stand for political office. But Jacinda Ardern’s story should not be written as one of failure, but one of bravery. She was a trail-blazer in her pursuit of office, her delivery of prime ministership, and her departure from it. May the next generation of political leaders, women and men alike, continue to follow her lead: in kindness, openness, great social media use (!) and willingness to quit when it feels time to go.

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