explainer

Over the weekend, New Zealand voted in favour of empathetic leadership.

Only three hours after the polls closed on Saturday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had secured a landslide victory in New Zealand's federal election. 

By the media and spectators alike, this election was seen as a referendum on - most particularly - Ardern’s personal leadership since 2017, when she stepped into the role of Prime Minister.

The result of the so-called referendum? Overwhelmingly in her favour. 

Listen to Mia, Holly and Jessie discuss all things Jacinda on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues after podcast.

As Ardern pointed out in her acceptance speech, the 40-year-old received a significant number of votes from people "who may not have supported Labour before" and thanked New Zealanders for showing "the Labour Party its greatest support in at least 50 years".

"We will be a party who governs for every New Zealander," she promised. 

Ardern went on to say she hopes to lead a united country, in a divided world.  

"We are living in an increasingly polarised world, a place where more and more people have lost the ability to see one another's point of view. I hope that this election, New Zealand has shown that this is not who we are. That as a nation, we can listen and we can debate."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delivers her victory speech after being re-elected in a historic landslide win on October 17, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. Image: Getty.  During Ardern’s three-year term, she has led New Zealand through immeasurable grief after their worst mass shooting, a deadly volcanic eruption, and the ongoing global pandemic.

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Not to mention - Ardern has done this all whilst having a daughter in diapers at home. Yes, during her first term, she became the second elected leader in modern history to give birth while in office. In June 2018, she and her partner Clarke Gayford welcomed their first child, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford. 

Throughout her first term, Ardern displayed an unconventional leadership style - one of compassion and conviction. Her focus - at all twists, tumbles and turns - has been empathy.

Watch: Jacinda Ardern has redefined leadership. Post continues. 


Video via Mamamia.

In an interview with The Guardian, she summarised her thoughts on her empathetic leadership style. 

“We need our leaders to be able to empathise with the circumstances of others; to empathise with the next generation that we’re making decisions on behalf of. And if we focus only on being seen to be the strongest, most powerful person in the room, then I think we lose what we’re meant to be here for. So I’m proudly focused on empathy, because you can be both empathetic and strong.”

Certainly, it's not a style everyone has agreed with.

As she told The New York Times: "One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak."

“I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.

The world witnessed and admired Ardern’s empathy during the Christchurch massacre in March, 2019. On what has been described as “New Zealand’s darkest day,” an Australian man opened fire targeting two mosques in Christchurch, where Muslims were gathering for their afternoon prayer. He killed 51 people.

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In less than 24 hours, Ardern was on the ground in Christchurch, wearing a black headscarf as a sign of respect, and wrapping her arms around mourners and members of the Muslim community. In footage from her meetings, she comforts devastated men and women, closing her eyes as she hears their words and feels their grief. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hugs a mosque-goer in Wellington, New Zealand. Image: Getty.  

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She was a leader who felt the tragedy as a human first, and a politician second. Those who were there said they were struck by her humanity.

“She was engaged, she was concerned, she knew what to say. She is the Prime Minister of New Zealand, but they felt she was there with them and that nobody else mattered,” said one woman, Sarah Ahmed, speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Ten months later, another catastrophe occurred. Once again, New Zealanders sought the guidance of their Prime Minister to hold their collective hand through the country’s grief. 

On December 9, just weeks before Christmas, New Zealand’s White Island volcano erupted. Of the 47 people who were on the island at the time, 21 were killed. 

Within 24 hours, Ardern was meeting and hugging the emergency services personnel who were first to respond to the White Island eruption. A week later, the Prime Minister led a nationwide minute of silence to honour the victims of the fatal explosion. 

Again, the world looked on and praised the Prime Minister for her compassionate and caring response. 

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Mere months after that, another once-in-a-century crisis emerged: a global pandemic. Ardern was remarkably swift with introducing ‘stay-at-home’ restrictions.

After announcing lockdown, she jumped on to a Facebook live with her followers to "check in with everyone as we prepare to hunker down for a few weeks". 

"Excuse the casual attire, it can be a messy business putting toddlers to bed so I'm not in my work clothes," she told watchers, before answering their questions about the restrictions she had imposed.

As a result of her quick reaction, New Zealand largely avoided the case numbers seen elsewhere, including in Australia, and the World Health Organisation praised the government for their response, holding them up as an example to other countries.

Plus, in solidarity with those who had been financially impacted by the pandemic, Ardern announced in April she would take a 20 per cent pay cut to her salary. 

For the third time in one year, Ardern's compassion for the crisis being weathered by her country was praised by those not just in New Zealand, but abroad too. 

And on Saturday, millions of New Zealanders took to the polls to re-elect Ardern, voting in favour of her empathetic leadership style. 

Image: Getty.


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