Jacinda Ardern: How Great Leaders Manage a Crisis

The most public leaders bear the greatest responsibility during a catastrophe, whether as a head of state or a head of an organisation. Those who are displaying real humanity will be remembered.

The coronavirus pandemic is a crisis unlike anything we have ever experienced. It is asking more of us as leaders than ever before. It is challenging the very essence of how we want to be as leaders.

In recent weeks, I’ve been noticing how the world’s leaders are responding. In particular, there are a small number who, in my view, are commanding respect with their purpose and clarity, providing great comfort to their communities with their confidence and compassion, and setting an example with their poise and results.

I’ve been particularly inspired by New Zealand’s impressively human prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. Her consistency, calm assurance, clear purpose and resolve – all delivered with the perfect balance of personality, gravity and good humour – seem to me to be a wonderful example of great leadership – and self-awareness – in action. Ardern even managed to keep her cool while conducting a press conference during an earthquake recently.

There are two key leadership lessons we can learn from Ms Ardern. These ideas are common among many other great leaders. The first is that self-awareness is the foundation upon which all else is built. The second is that a strong and clear purpose keeps us anchored, focuses our efforts, and enables us to make discriminating choices.

Self-awareness is the foundation on which all else is built

Now, more than ever, leaders must develop and use self-awareness to lead, support, coach, nurture and inspire others. This self-awareness helps us not only manage our own emotions and thought processes but allows us to engage others on their terms. It can help us embrace the shadow parts of our leadership personality. To consider our own preferences, and those of others, demonstrates empathy and emotional intelligence, provides clarity of purpose, and offers a very human touch to bring people with us.

Action: Invest time, thought and energy in becoming more self-aware. And support the same investment in every single person who works for and with you.

Self-aware people are your organisation’s competitive edge, because self-aware people are self-assured people. They make better decisions, quicker. They understand their workstyle to become more productive. They conduct relationships in a way that’s mutually beneficial and respectful. Their communications are designed for those around them, helping key messages land better. They know how to influence peers and leaders, can develop higher-value customer relationships, and are a voice of positivity within teams.

Developing self-aware people at every level of an organisation is a meaningful long-term investment. Self-aware people are active participants in teams and leadership programmes, which become easier to deliver, are more comprehensively implemented, and deliver value further into the future.

Not only will your business perform better – but you will pass a lifelong gift of leadership to your people.

Self-aware people are your organisation’s competitive edge, because self-aware people are self-assured people.

Personal purpose is at the heart of good leadership

Great leaders have real clarity about their purpose, and the values that guide them.

Action: Develop clarity and simplicity of purpose.

In times of disruption, it can be easy to lose sight of the reason behind our efforts. But underpinning all our plans should be our purpose. Focusing on purpose helps clarify goals. If we are committed to ‘why’ we do what we do then we’ll be able to adapt – to build new visions in service of that why. We will see more clearly which actions further our purpose and which are distractions. We will find it easier to adapt our approach and our plans, our decision-making will become simpler, and our organisations will be more agile and responsive. We can be clear about ‘why’ – and then ‘what’ – and flexible about ‘how’.

The Japanese idea of ‘Ikigai’ (or “reason for being”) provides a powerful framework with which to clarify purpose. Ikigai lies inside the intersection of four elements: what we are passionate about; what we are good at; what we can be paid for; and what the world needs that we can provide.

Of course, it is impossible to say prescriptively what actions a leader should or shouldn’t take. These are different for every single leader in every single circumstance. We can learn from others, but that doesn’t mean we should copy blindly.

However, as we are facing a prolonged period of uncertainty and anxiety in our personal and professional lives, and in the lives of our families and friends, it’s helpful to examine the leaders who inspire us, identify their qualities and reflect on how we might do more of what it is we admire about them.

Our own self-awareness and sense of purpose will reveal the rest.

Andy Lothian is co-founder of Insights Learning and Development, a global leader in self-awareness and people development solutions, and CEO of The Insights Group.

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