A few weeks ago, during a Facebook live stream, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was in the middle of giving the nation an update on Covid-19 restrictions when she was interrupted by her 3-year-old daughter, Neve.
“You’re meant to be in bed, darling,” Ardern told her daughter. When Neve called for her again, she responded “Pop back to bed, I’ll see you in a second,” before turning back to the camera to laugh about the darling little interruption.
After continuing for another five minutes, Ardern called it quits when little Neve re-appeared at the door.
It’s adorable. It’s funny. It’s heartwarming. Mostly though, for the caregivers out there trying to be both a parent and a professional at the same time, it’s totally relatable.
It’s also kind of shocking.
Over these last 18 months, I’ve had many “important calls” where I’ve told my wife to “keep the kids away and quiet for the next 45 minutes … no matter what!”
Who am I kidding? Here we have a world leader, addressing the people of New Zealand about pandemic restrictions. No call of mine is, or will ever be, close to this level of importance (sorry to my clients). And yet, Ardern is seen here acting as both Prime Minister and parent, and switching between the two roles with absolute ease and grace.
While this may not be ‘normal’ leadership behavior, I would argue it is exactly the type of leadership we need within our governments and organizations.
We can all take a page from Ardern, including myself. So let’s remember these four things. Be vulnerable, be confident, be compassionate, and be authentic.
Be vulnerable in front of people.
As a leader, you always want to be ten steps ahead of everyone else. So, when you’re caught off guard and your team is there to witness, it can often feel like you’re losing control. While you may think this moment of vulnerability makes you appear weak, it can actually make you stronger in the eyes of other people – if you know how to cope.
When her daughter initially interrupted her video, Ardern could have turned off the camera or muted herself. Instead, she let the world see her jump into “Mom mode” because she didn’t want this moment of vulnerability to stop her from doing her job. It was a no-brainer for her.
If you find it difficult to be vulnerable in front of others, you can practice developing your emotional courage. Emotional courage is the “willingness to feel”. Since being vulnerable can feel uncomfortable, we tend to do everything we can to avoid it, even if it makes our job as a leader harder down the line.
Be confident when things happen unexpectedly.
Imagine if Ardern had appeared embarrassed in the video by fidgeting with the camera and lowering her voice when talking to her daughter. This type of response would have likely changed how this situation was perceived. Why? Because people tend to assess a person’s competence based on their level of confidence.
Although vulnerable moments can be great for showing your “human side”, as a leader, it’s imperative that you maintain a degree of self-confidence that shows you’re still capable of getting the job done. If self-confidence is something you struggle with, you may benefit from practicing self-leadership.
Self-leadership is a reframing technique that allows you to see setbacks as opportunities for growth. Articulating this positive expectation helps mold your thoughts in a constructive direction, allowing you to better manage your emotions and build self-confidence.
Be compassionate in the face of frustration.
Being interrupted while doing something important, like addressing your nation’s citizens, is a familiar and frustrating experience. Since it’s so easy to lose your temper during these moments, Ardern’s compassionate response to her daughter was all the more impressive.
As a leader, showing compassion towards your team, especially when they make mistakes, is imperative. However, that doesn’t mean you need to let poor performances go unchecked for the sake of sparing someone’s feelings. Instead, what you should do is practice wise compassionate leadership.
This leadership style involves two factors. The first is wisdom: a deep understanding of what motivates people and the courage to approach uncomfortable situations with transparency. The second is compassion: showing genuine care and concern for the well-being of others and providing help and guidance when needed.
Together, wise compassion allows you to push your team to perform at their best, while ensuring they feel cared for and supported along the way. In essence, wise compassion humanizes the experience of leading a team. Unsurprisingly, job satisfaction is 86% higher for employees who work for a wise and compassionate leader than those who don’t.
Be authentic even amongst the haters.
At that moment, Adern laughs and calls her daughter’s interruption “a big time fail” and asks, “does anyone else have kids escape like three, four times after bedtime?” Considering millions of parents were forced to work from home while caring for their kids during the pandemic, her question was likely answered by tens of thousands of viewers with a resounding “yes!”
This live stream reflected positively on Ardern because so many people could relate to her. Relateability is such an important trait because as humans, we tend to like people more when we believe they are similar to us. This is true even when similarities seem small like enjoying the same TV show or even having the same birthday.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should strike up a conversation about a band you hate just because one of your team members likes them. Instead, opt for authenticity. To be authentic, you must cultivate your self-awareness. Spend some time reflecting on what’s important to you and how you’d like to lead your team. Knowing this will help you develop a strong sense of who you are, which will help you better relate to your team.