10 Things I Learnt From the Accidental Prime Minister

I recently got to meet the ‘accidental’ prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. And before anyone criticises me for being flippant, this is what Jacinda called herself. To receive a handwritten invitation to meet someone you admire so much is definitely a great start to the day.
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My goal is to be inspired every day and on this day I was not disappointed. Here are my top insights from the morning. 

  1. Jacinda Ardern is a ‘normal chick’. When the photographer was taking my picture with Jacinda, she said, ‘Nice shoes.’ Now that is my type of person. Someone who notices the details, is able to give a compliment, is kind and who LOVES SHOES! Jacinda also told us she manages her own social media, including all the grammar and spelling errors. (Mmm, I am also guilty of this.) Jacinda, if you do read this, feel free to comment! 

LEARNING: We are all human. 

  1. We all have imposter syndrome. Jacinda’s imposter is a leprechaun who is going to jump out and tell everyone that she doesn’t know what she is doing. I understand that. If you, too, suffer from imposter syndrome, own it. Imposter syndrome can make you better – it can make you work harder, ask questions, be curious, do research, listen to others and take the time to think. So don’t hide it, ignore it or be ashamed of it. Instead, embrace your inner leprechaun and be curious. 

LEARNING: We are all imposters in some way. Own it. 

  1. Jacinda never would have become prime minister if she had had the choice. Partly because of Point 2 – the feeling that she wasn’t good enough – and partly because she saw how Helen Clark was treated and she never wanted to put herself in that position. But she felt she had no choice. The prime minister resigned and as the deputy she had to step up. She actually did have a choice; she also could have resigned but she didn’t, and the world is a better place for it. For those who doubt if they should take up that opportunity, or who think they are not good enough – back yourself and have a go. 

LEARNING: Back yourself. You can do it. 

  1. There were only six weeks between when Jacinda took up the role of leader of the opposition and the election, so she had no choice but to be herself and speak her truth. Interestingly, Jacinda said she is sure that if there had been more time many experts would have been engaged to train her but because they only had six weeks she had to wing it, as they say. I believe that part of Jacinda’s appeal is that she is real; even in a room with 1500 people, you can feel her authenticity. 

LEARNING: Be yourself. 

  1. As humans we are physiologically hardwired to look for risk and danger. In cavepeople days, it was a sabre-toothed tiger; today it might be losing your job, a toxic co-worker or friend, or a troll on social media. We are programmed to focus on these potentially threatening things so that we can mitigate the risk. But the reality is that a flippant comment by an unhappy person or feedback from a cowardly troll is not really a genuine danger. What Jacinda trained herself to do is to look at the 99 positive points of feedback rather than focusing on the single point of negativity. 

LEARNING: Focus on the majority, not the small minority. 

  1. The difficult topic of gender discrimination and the very personal attacks women in the public eye seem to receive compared with their male counterparts came up during this meeting. While there are hateful, cruel and ignorant people – or perhaps they are just open, undiplomatic people with very strong opinions – they are a minority. Remember Point 5, above: focus on the majority who are behind and beside you, not the minority who might not be. 

LEARNING: Accept that not everyone will like or agree with you. And that is okay. Their opinions do not need to define you. 

  1. Leaders can and do have emotions. They can also show them. As a leader, Jacinda sometimes felt angry, sad and overwhelmed, as well as genuinely joyful. As a leader, it is okay to share even the negative emotions, but then you have to have a plan. The best leader knows that their emotions can impact decisions and behaviours, are aware when this could be the case, and understand when to step back and reflect. Go back to Point 1. Leaders, even prime ministers, are still human. 

LEARNING: Accept that leaders have emotions. 

  1. When dealing with complex issues and problems, find common ground. When you can find that, like a ripple effect, good decisions can be facilitated. 

LEARNING: Take the time to understand the perspectives of others, align goals and then get curious about solutions. 

  1. Understand the motivations, emotions and perspectives of yourself and others. Why might they have this perspective? Why might they be scared? Why am I so worried about this? Why don’t others understand me? 

LEARNING: Be curious about the underlying emotions driving your responses and behaviours. 

  1. You can be humble and proud, brave and scared, intelligent but at a loss, sad but optimistic, kind and tough, one of the team and the boss. 

LEARNING: There is not one way to lead. 

Thank you Jacinda for being real, thank you Emma Isaacs for bringing Jacinda to us, and thank you to the table of amazing leaders, who also happen to be women, who joined Kerrie Ryan and myself at the Peeplcoach and Communicado table: Jacinta McDonell, Kate Morris, Anna Baird, Amantha Imber, Abigail Forsyth and Tessa Court

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