Leading in a Crisis with Resolve *and* Kindness

The corona virus crisis is showing us what leadership can look like and women the world over are rocking it.  Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand has been giving us a master class.  

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Reading Time: 2.5 minutes (although if you click on the links, you might get a coffee and
settle in for a “wee while.”)

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I am gobsmacked by Jacinda Ardern.  Friends are starting to roll their eyes when I mention her name and mouth “fan-girl.” to each other when they think I’m not looking. (At least I think that’s what their doing.  It can be hard to tell on Zoom.)   Ardern just keeps getting it right and – then, more right that she did before.  Here are the lessons in her masterclass:

FIRST, PROVIDE A FRAMEWORK SO WE CAN MAKE SENSE OF WHAT IS HAPPENING

On March 21, 2020, Ardern announced a four-level alert system and told New Zealanders that they were currently in Level Two of that system.  This may be the most brilliant thing she’s done.  The alert system gives government and citizens a framework within which to understand the new and baffling reality while making transparent the approach government is taking.

The genius of giving people a common way to make sense of something so changeable is the source of my gob-smackedness.  It is instantly grounding, provides a common language, and helps restore a sense of agency and control.  We may not know much else, but we have a common way to think about it,  talk about it, and understand our leader’s approach to it.  This is instantly calming.  Ardern and her government created the alert level system because it was needed.  She didn’t wait until she had it right according to science or popular opinion.  She  and her government made it up based on what they knew then.  I don’t know about New Zealanders, but it has definitely helped me.

SECOND, PUT IT ALL ON THE TABLE, NO HOLDING BACK

In her March 23, 2020 address – a mere two days after announcing the four-level alert system – Ardern changed the lives of New Zealanders in a 14-minute speech.  In under 14 minutes, she elegantly communicated on all three levels of the transition curve: She gave facts that blasted through denial, offered support and acknowledgement, and inspired collective action for a common cause.   In under 14 minutes, she also hit all three aspects of motivational speech:  She wore her intentions on her sleeve, gave clear, unsparing direction about the actions she wanted taken, and made meaning of and acknowledged the difficulty of the sacrifice she was asking.  She did all three of these over and over, repeatedly braiding these three strands together.

What she didn’t do is just as important:  She didn’t infantalize anyone:  She never once expressed doubt about their ability to do this difficult thing.  She did not talk down to anyone, in fact she included herself in everything she laid out.  She did not hide difficult information, rather she shared the exact information she’d used to make her decision.

THIRD, MATCH YOUR BEHAVIOR TO YOUR WORDS

When your actions don’t match your words, it’s your words that are ignored.  In order for what you say to be heard and absorbed, your behavior must be absolutely, effortlessly congruent with them, even when no one is watching.  I love Ardern’s open, transparent face.  She is always genuine, present.  For her, the words and the music go together. She displays the full range of normal human emotions. I find this so refreshing.

The first two pictures above are Ardern moments before announced the upcoming self-isolation of New Zealand.  The third picture is her Facebook Live two days later when the isolation had started, checking in with people after she’d put her toddler to bed.  And that’s not all:  She gave a press conference just for children because she knew they were anxious.  She and her cabnite took a 20% paycut.  She fiercely defended the elderly, letting her fury show, when others suggested they should left to die.  She is not staged, fake, pretending, nor is she needy, blustering or combative.

FOURTH, BE KIND

In her March 23rd speech, Ardern ended by asking people to be kind to one another even though they were frightened.  She gave suggestions like checking on neighbors, setting up phone trees to stay in touch and the like.  She’d clearly thought about how self-isolation would feel and come up with practical suggestions.

It is possible to lead with resolve and kindness.  In a capable leader’s hands, they strengthen one other.  There are many, many world leaders in addition to Ardern who are demonstrating this, all of them women.

HOW DID IT WORK OUT?

On Monday, April 20, 2020, Ardern announced that New Zealand would move to Level 3 on at midnight on April 27th.  She said that Google data showed that compliance with the restrictions had been high.

“NZ has done what few countries had managed to do and crush Covid-19.  The results of the lockdown “had all been achieved as a result of New Zealanders,”  Ardern said.

“We have a transmission rate of 0.48 per cent – one of the lowest in the world.  We have broken the chain (of community transmission),” she said.  “New Zealanders have proven themselves and they’ve done so in an incredible way.”

Ardern gave others credit for the results rather than take it for herself or her government.

(Master) Class dismissed.

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