Jacinda Ardern Showed Us How Leaders Should Communicate Now

In between your virtual speeches, Op-Eds and white papers, you should be demonstrating leadership, expressing humanity.

Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation as New Zealand Prime Minister Wednesday, and she’ll be as sorely missed by the leadership communication community as by her supporters in New Zealand and admirers of her political substance and style from around the world. Except, now maybe she’ll have time to do other good things. Like helping other world leaders become more dynamic, more sane and more humane, as I describe in this piece, written in the beginning of 2021. —DM

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I gave a session last week at our ExecCommsNEXT conference on how New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is entirely changing the way leaders communicate. 

Or at least she should be. 

I keep hearing from all these leaders who are wondering, after a year of emails and Zoom statements on COVID, on George Floyd, on our divided society—what on earth there is left to say?

Well that’s just it, Boys! Communication is more than you talking. As is leadership.

In between your virtual speeches, Op-Eds and white papers, you should be demonstrating leadership, and expressing the humanity they want so badly to think you share. 

In short, you should do as Jacinda Ardern does, and implore your exec comms staffers to help find inventive ways to invite people along so they almost feel they’re by your side as you lead.

In the session, I showed how Ardern:

• Speaks candidly (yet still discreetly) about what it’s like balancing motherhood and statesmanship.

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• Comes to you from her bedroom on a Sunday night in in the middle of a crisis, giving an update on what to expect and what to do in the week ahead. (I’ve also seen her coming home from a late-night meeting, surrounded by her exhausted staffers, on bus.)

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• Regularly interviews public health experts and others—modeling a kind of leadership that’s not based on omniscient gravitas but on convening and learning, and “empathetic leadership,” as she calls it.

• And yuks it up with Stephen Colbert in a way that doesn’t try to demonstrate that she’s funny, which we don’t need a leader to be—but rather that she has a sense of humor, which we do need them to have.

And then here came Ardern yesterday on Facebook, bringing us into the speechwriting process itself.

By now every single Kiwi feels they’ve caught their PM in the fairly crude state of leadership over this year—as she’s led the island nation to the most effective COVID response in the world. Because she’s kept them right by her side, all the way through.

I’ve been trying to recruit Jacinda Ardern to keynote the PSA World Conference for two or three years now—and I’m not giving up.

Meanwhile, start watching her yourself, world leaders and corporate CEOs. This is what modern leadership communication is. In whatever style that’s authentic to your personality, this is how it’s done.

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