Jacinda Ardern’s resignation flooded my feed a couple of weeks back with many acknowledging her courage and bravery in stepping down from the most powerful position in her country.
I have long admired her from afar. While I didn’t follow every single detail of her political career, I was always inspired by her humanity, empathy, and care in her leadership while she navigated hard challenges leading a country. I hope that in the future a line like this will feel unnecessary because we will have more examples of people in positional power and formal leadership roles where they manage a nation through a pandemic, navigate complexity, and deliver hard news while also bringing kindness and compassion in the spaces where they show up.
And while she said that she was simply burnt out and that the threats didn’t impact her I still have so much empathy for what she went through and also so much anger at how humans especially women and mothers in power can be treated such that she received so many violent threats including rape and death threats.
While most of us reading this aren’t leading a country, there were lessons that apply to so many of us as we navigate our roles as leaders in the workplace as well as in our personal lives.
Two things can be true at the same time – As Jacinda Ardern so aptly said that her time as the prime minister was both fulfilling and challenging. She said she felt sad leaving her role but she didn’t regret her decision. We are so conditioned to believe that we can’t hold space for opposites but in reality, being a human and being a good leader often requires us to honor the nuance and range of our own emotions, the often diametric opposite inputs informing our decisions and our ability to embrace the dichotomy present in a situation.
Our ambitions have seasonality – So many of us believe that we can operate with the same focus, intensity, and commitment for the entire stretch of our career but the reality is very few of us can truly sustain that without a cost to other elements in our ecosystem. We all have limits and as nature so beautifully teaches us about the seasons and that periods of fallow can actually allow for a better yield in a different season. Also, we have many different avenues for expressing our talent and contributing to the world, and the shape of many of our careers will evolve, expand, and contract and there is both beauty and power in that.
Our needs are different – Jacinda Ardern gracefully acknowledged that she had nothing left in her tank to lead and the reality is for someone else that level may have come much sooner and for another much later. What we each need to give our best in our careers and in our lives vastly varies based on our life circumstances, the privileges we are born into (or lack thereof), our personality, our aspirations, and more. It takes immense self-awareness and courage to acknowledge what we need, what our limits are, and what decisions will best support them.
“I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also one of the more challenging,” Ardern said in an emotional resignation speech. “You cannot and should not do it unless you have a full tank plus a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges.” Jacinda Ardern, Former PM of New Zealand
Make room for change – So many of us experience intense pressure to have all the next steps cleanly mapped out before making a change. And yes, I want to acknowledge the financial implications and responsibilities that come with making changes to our lives but sometimes for those who can, there is tremendous power in that white space. She said that he had no plan, no next steps for what was coming her way.
Think about your legacy – I often ask my clients how they’d like to be remembered once they leave their organization and to reflect on how they need to show up today to be in integrity with that vision. Leadership is not about your title or the scope of your responsibility but about the everyday actions and choices that you make, the vision you set, the decisions you make, and how you treat people in that process to move things forward. Take a moment and think about what you want to be remembered for.
“I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. And that you can be your own kind of leader — one who knows when it’s time to go,” Jacinda Ardern, Former PM of New Zealand
Over to you, what did you learn from her resignation?