ImpactAlpha, May 14 – The 40-year-old prime minister is redefining leadership for the 21st century. Early in the COVID crisis, Ardern chose not to contain the pandemic but to eliminate it.
Led by science, Ardern moved decisively to impose border controls and a nationwide lockdown. Government spending provided essential support to businesses and backstopped incomes of workers who lost their jobs. Ardern and her ministers cut their own pay by 20% for six months. She chose empathetic leadership, framing the country a unified “team of five million.”
Roughly 100 days after the first identified case in New Zealand, Ardern’s government declared the pandemic effectively over. There have been setbacks, of course. Still, New Zealand, with five million people, has tallied just 2,700 cases and only 26 deaths.
On gender equity, climate, gun violence and disaster response as well, Ardern has put New Zealand ahead of the curve. Last month, her government moved to make New Zealand the first country to force banks and investment managers to disclose the climate impacts of their investments. Ardern passed a gender “pay equity” law that aims not just for equal pay for equal work, but equal pay for work of equal value and a broader rethink of the value of women’s work.
Ardern’s leadership was rewarded last October, when voters reelected her with the largest victory for her center-left Labour Party in half a century. This week, Ardern topped Fortune’s list of “world’s greatest leaders.”
In the before times, leadership in government was often undervalued. “Leadership is not about necessarily being the loudest in the room, but instead being the bridge, the thing that is missing in the discussion,” she says, “and trying to build a consensus from there.”