On 19th January, Jacinda Ardern announced that she would be resigning as New Zealand’s 40th Prime Minister. She duly did and has now left office after five-plus years.

There is no doubting her impact. A PM at 37, a progressive politician and a natural communicator, Ardern’s administration (she has always stressed team effort) made energetic inroads domestically into pressing problems like child poverty.

But perhaps her signature initiatives were the compassionate and purposeful reaction to the Christchurch terror attacks along with the bold and determined response to COVID-19. 

Ardern’s action-orientation and emotional intelligence, along with her gracious honouring of New Zealand’s diversity and reputation for soft power, have brought international respect. The result was a foreign policy heft that outweighed the country’s size and population. 

In last month’s blog, I prioritised resilience, kindness, and self-care as key personal attributes for 2023. Jacinda embodies them. Her kind but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused approach has shone brightly in the political murk perpetuated by Trump, Bolsonaro, Putin et al. 

As for looking after herself, the honest admission that “I no longer have enough in the tank” to discharge requisite responsibilities exemplifies Ardern’s respect for her nation, her colleagues, her partner, and their child. There is also great self-awareness to behold. 

What can we learn, then, about how to be an effective leader from this remarkable woman? I have been struck by the three of her qualities.

Firstly, in her soon-to-be-leaving speech, Jacinda said: “I am human”. This epitomises great leaders now. Less singular heroes, more inclusive collaborators. As an executive coach, I understand the power of listening and asking in stimulating deeper thinking, permitting richer dialogue. Equally, leaders bear a burden, and, as Ardern confirmed, this can come at considerable cost. 

 Secondly, being human does not prevent steely decision making. The world has never been so complex and uncertain. Ardern is adept at reducing issues to a sharp point, at which conclusions are reached and plans implemented, even if the decisions are not right first time.

Thirdly, and most interesting for me, Jacinda Ardern knew when to step down, when to cease being a leader here and become one (as she surely will) there. 

Opponents have pointed to storm clouds hovering over October’s election, suggesting that economic headwinds, setbacks in delivery and vicious threats from some quarters prompted her resignation. 

But I don’t believe that Jacinda is running away. Given that leadership is more like balancing on a surfboard that sitting in a big chair, she knows that having given her all, it’s time.

Retail consultant Mary Portas posted a similar message, ending: “The world needs more women like you”. 

Jacinda, the world needs more people like you, men included.