“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant” (Robert Louis Stevenson)
The world looks for immediacy when it comes to measuring results – in one sense, rightly so, as this is what people, and specifically leaders, are hired to do. There is an expectation of meeting and achieving key result indicators related to the job and leaders are judged accordingly. In another sense, however, the legacy that the leaders leave is perhaps more important than achieving a good result here and there. The impact and sustainability of leadership attempts need to be measured and evaluated if one is to have a clear picture of leadership impact.
In a recent interview with Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, the interviewer asked: “Some are critical of your leadership style, others love it. Why is your leadership style so different?” Jacinda answered: “Well, you have to be yourself – it comes from within. Genuineness and authenticity are key. But, if I could distil it down into one concept that is simple, however, it is this: Kindness”.
The seeds that Jacinda plants daily are characterised by a view of her role as a nurturer – she models her leadership style on a good parent, caring for her offspring. Redefining the idea of a modern leader, she believes that the world doesn’t need politicians who are thick-skinned and dominant, but people need a leader who can care for them. She notes: “Often focusing on power, leaders lose sight of how essential kindness is”. Ardern is bold enough to say that if others can’t accept kindness as the core of her leadership style, then so be it!
Jacinda’s leadership style, amongst many other virtues, includes the following characteristics:
- The seed of expressing empathy – for Ardern, empathy and strength can blend together into an amazing leadership style that focuses on the people and is for the people. She notes: “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. One should ensure that their people feel loved, supported and taken care of, otherwise what’s the point of being the powerful leader in the room?”
- The seed of authentic communication – authentic leaders, like Jacinda Ardern, cultivate open and honest relationships through active self-disclosure. Her rhetoric is different, but the huge difference is that she seems to actually mean everything she says. That authenticity is rare in leaders and that is why she has achieved her huge success.
- The seed of honouring diversity and inclusivity (women, children and the disenfranchised) – in her cabinet, 40% are women, 25% are Māori (two in five of those are women), 15% are Pasifika (two in three are women), and 15% are LGBT — one of whom is Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson. She notes: “If you cannot justify a decision when challenged, then perhaps you should think again. Challenge comes from diversity. The problem with most leaders is they select people like themselves, with similar blind spots, and hence they remain unchallenged.” Her approach to inclusivity leads to unity.
- The seed of decisiveness – “a leader will be able to make sound and timely decisions based on facts and relevant information. They have the ability to ask questions and consult further to fully understand the outcomes and ramifications of their decisions. A leader will make the decision and make a commitment to seeing it through.” She has the skill to act quickly and robustly. Leaders who look like they are in control, are agile, and make people feel safe, while at the same time coming across as relatable and personable, appeal to followers.
- The seed of focusing on her “true north” – to move your team through a crisis, staff need to have an expectation that you are moving towards something – a meaningful destination. Even in the face of adversity, people can move forward if they are provided with a believable call to action. Ardern shows staff where she is going and why. She helps them understand what their part is in helping her get there.
- The seed of personal consistency – Jacinda sets an example by behaving consistently according to the values she espouses. Not deviating from what she considers to be important, she encourages others not only to perceive the value behind decisions, but to work with her to accomplish a worthwhile human experience in New Zealand.
- The seed of humility – Ardern follows the ancient Greek maxim of knowing herself, and the ability to lead herself. She understands her strengths and her weaknesses. She notes: “Authentic leaders are aware of their own biases and strive to see things from multiple viewpoints. We cannot know all sides to an issue and must work to understand and respect others’ perspectives before forming opinions or making decisions. Acting in the best interests of the collective requires a lucid and compassionate understanding of how our actions affect other people.” Jacinda laughs at herself, acknowledges her mistakes, and seeks to rectify them.
Leaders, plant appropriate seeds that eventually lead to a sustainable and meaningful harvest. Children are not born as mature adults – there is a necessary and consistent nurturing process to achieve the harvest of responsible citizens that contribute significantly to the welfare of a nation. May all leaders see their respective roles as nurturers of growth and expressors of care.
Picture credit: The Media