What leadership looks like in times of turmoil

In the wake of the tragedy that took place on March 15th in Christchurch New Zealand, I shared something powerful and hopeful with my LinkedIn community: the picture of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, accompanied by a comment on her display of empathy and inspiring leadership.

In the midst of so much ineffectual and divisive leadership in the world, Prime Minister Ardern represents a beacon of what being a real leader should be.  Clearly, she is decisive and action-oriented.  And, while a few may argue that her actions are solely politically-motivated, there is something else about her that resonates with me on a deep, visceral level.  And, apparently, I’m not the only one.

I am not a social media influencer. I spend my time doing my work rather than promoting it, almost certainly to the detriment of my brand.  The definition of ‘viral’ for me is 3-400 views of a post.  However, when I shared my post about Ms. Ardern on LinkedIn, it quickly reached an audience of over 15,000 and counting.

I’ve chatted with a wide range of people to make sense of what this means, and why Ms. Ardern has become an icon of real leadership.  The word “authentic” was tabled many times, but I tend to dismiss this definition.  There are many leaders (and I’m sure you know some) who show up as what could be described as authentic, that have the opposite impact of Ms. Ardern on those around them.  When pushed, I found that my conversations ended up circling words like caring, compassion, empathy and love.  These are words that I rarely hear in my work with leaders, which has me wondering, why?

When I work with leaders, the vast majority of them – men and women – believe that accessing these kinds of feelings in the workplace will be seen as weakness, resulting in too many leaders wrapped in what our CEO Susan Eick describes as Corporate Armour.  While this armour creates a sense of protection and to some (usually the wearer) it glimmers as a sign of strength, it also creates an impenetrable barrier that inhibits real, human connection. What would it take for more leaders to find  the courage to bring more of their full humanity to work and share it with those around them?

Ms. Ardern did not become the Prime Minister of New Zealand by being a push-over. Politics is not an easy sport. I also have no doubt that along the way she has made her fair share of enemies, mistakes and misdeeds – she is human, after all.   Yet, she is bringing something else to the stage; a healthy and welcome dose of empathy that seems in such short supply.  And this empathy is connecting with people all around the world.  I wonder what would happen if more leaders tried this?  What if you tried bringing a little empathy into your workplace today?

How might this small shift in your behaviour as a leader impact your world in a big way?

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