Full disclosure, before I begin: I love Jacinda. I think she totally rocks. But you may not think so at all - and that's perfectly ok too. If you want a powerful lesson in leadership though, you should be watching her regardless.
So the 39-year old, mother-of-one leader of New Zealand scored an 80% agreement rating on the lock down measures among the New Zealanders. Lock down meaning: shutting down 98% of the economy, getting people to not leave the house, not even to attend their aunties' funeral - all while watching their job or business go down the drain with little hope of recovery. It was NOT a small ask. But: 80% of New Zealanders were ok with that - which must include political opponents. So whether you agree or disagree with the measures that were taken - try beat that score!
If you have spent as much time working in sustainability as I have, you know what it's like to be enlisted to promote unpopular ideas - such as: spending more on materials to reduce carbon emissions. Ditching long-standing suppliers because they don't meet waste minimization or material standards. Getting staff to do boring or uncomfortable new things like turning off computers at night or walking to work. Or: telling farmers to give away profit margins just to reduce methane emissions or water pollution.
It's not exactly fun - and you deal with a lot of push-back while progress is often slow. Over time, you learn to be happy with incremental improvements.
So how does a young woman manage to get 80% of people to relatively happily do something they REALLY don't want to do - at an unprecedented scale??
The list of leadership masterpieces that Jacinda Ardern has pulled off during her term of office is long and impressive. Some have already been highlighted in this analysis by Suze Wilson:
But there's so much more - including the question 'How does she ACTUALLY pull it off'?
Here are some more of the cornerstones of creating deep buy-in, as demonstrated in this real life masterclass, unveiled:
Listening first and listening closely
Jacinda Ardern held an ear to the ground, all along the way. She's been inviting questions, feedback, comments relentlessly - and fearlessly. From (sometimes painfully populist) reporters during daily press conferences to Joe and Jane Doe commenting on her facebook feeds - Jacinda listens closely to what is happening in the community. This allows here to pre-empt arguments, objections and challenges and respond early and before they get out of hand. It allows her to use language that is relatable and actually makes said empathy super easy - because she's speaking to people, not statistics. All the way down to addressing commentators by their name ("Jesse is asking...").
Giving people the feeling they are understood opens the doors to influence. And it can't be faked. Pretending to listen doesn't cut it - neither does letting defensiveness or judgement get in the way of understanding. Understanding means clearing your own channel, overcoming your own reactivity - but without having to abandon your message.
Staying close and being relatable
Jacinda Ardern constantly looks for commonalities and thereby creates a feeling of belonging and community. She positions herself as 'one of us' and is careful to attack problems, not people. By live streaming in her jumper from her bedroom and sharing her daughters Easter egg sharpie scribbles on the parliament house carpet - she makes us all feel more comfortable about being human.
Influence requires building know, emphasizing likeness and building trust - which means focusing on what makes us the same, not different. It means opening up a (carefully framed) window into her private world, which turns out to be just like ours. And it means making people feel good about themselves - knowing that people usually won't remember what you say, but how you make them feel. And it means building trust by consistently doing what you say you would - including announcing an employer subsidy scheme and having the money turn up in people's accounts within a week.
Especially when we are deeply passionate about something - as many sustainability professionals are - it's easy to get lost in the topic discussion and forget our humanity. By doing so, we give away our strongest means of influence.
Harnessing identity and higher values
People will do anything to act in accordance with what they perceive to be their identity. And they will always do more for others than they do for themselves. Jacinda taps into this with the phrase 'Stay home - save lives', and framing the sacrifices people are making as being "for our fellow New Zealanders" - who often have a name and story - another tool she uses well and frequently.
But more importantly, she creates a positive identity by consistently expressing an unshakable belief in the cooperative and caring nature of her people (disrupted only by a few 'idiots' - one of the very few occasions where she utilizes 'us vs. them') - and thus inspires people to live up to the expectation. This becomes all the more powerful in a country stricken with poverty, a deep cultural divide and high levels of personal dis-empowerment. There will be people out there who have never felt like they can achieve anything of greatness - but here they are, able to save lives - just by staying home. Referring to them as her 'team of 5 mio' creates the same type of belonging - perfectly suited, again, in a country with a strong sporting culture.
For the sustainability world, there's great potential in this which is often underutilized. Our nature tells us to focus on 'what's wrong' and distinguish between 'us' and 'them', although finding even the tiniest seed of caring in someone else and then elevating it to create a new, compelling identity is a much more powerful tool for change.
Not being boring and breaking the pattern
Armed with the intel gained from listening deeply, Jacinda Ardern was able to break the pattern of what people 'expect' from their political leaders - creating positive surprises along the way. Whether it's by starting her 'Chat with Jacinda' podcast (a stroke of genius) or instigating a New Zealand wide Easter egg hunt - Jacinda Ardern isn't afraid to do the unexpected.
Again, anticipation is your friend and creates the opportunity to respond to emerging issues in creative and unexpected ways - a great way to grab people's attention and escape the boredom trap. (Remember? - People remember how you make them feel!)
Maintaining absolute certainty
Last not least, for today, Jacinda Ardern mastered the art of creating certainty in uncertain times. The truth is - we don't have all the answers. We might not even be sure about the questions. This applies to Covid-19 as much as it applies to climate change. To wait until all the information or science comes in would have disastrous consequences. So the way forward is to DECIDE - something - and do so with absolute certainty, going all in.
Jacinda Ardern didn't know the way - so she made the way by introducing the 4 level alert system early on in the game (and then figuring out what the levels meant as she went along). She relied firmly on science where possible but didn't hesitate to act where science was not available.
Making a bold decision and then figuring stuff out as you go is the best way forward in shifting territory. Should the decision be wrong, you'll find out soon enough. Of course this requires not being tone-deaf, maintaining agility and humility and quickly correcting any errors that are found. It would also require, in the worst case, to know when to change course completely - and do so with the same level of certainty, derived from the lessons just learnt.
There are many more gems to be found in Jacinda Arderns response - but those might be for another day. Before I move on though - a word to the skeptics among you (yes, I see you!). I know some of you will have the word 'manipulation' flashing through your minds in bright shiny letters. And yes, I get it. You are concerned we may all be manipulated - and you are hesitant to employ 'manipulation' to further your own cause.
The reality is - we are being manipulated all the time - deliberately or not. It's in the nature of responding to events around us. So if you are wondering if you are being manipulated, the answer is 'yes' - but it ALWAYS is - for better or worse. The manipulation industry is running on high, no matter what you do, or don't do. One of my mentors was an activist turned NLP trainer who joined the profession because she realized that 'manipulation' was liberally employed by 'the bad guys' and if she was to intervene, she needed to beat them with their own weaponry.
Likewise, my business is to help good people step up and become powerful influencers - because if they won't, someone else will.
As for Jacinda - I don't know how much of her genius is deliberate and a learnt skill and how much is simply great intuition. And I'm not here to say whether what she's doing is right or wrong. My sense is one of genuine care and integrity, which is near impossible to fake - and as I said at the start of this article - I DO like and admire her. And not just because she's a woman of similar age and background (know, LIKE, trust - remember?).
But whether you do or don't share my positive regard: I do encourage those of you who have an important mission and message to share to carefully watch, listen and learn.
If you are keen to learn more about effective influence and how to harness it for the sustainability space, reach out for more information about our program 'Influence for impact' www.imaginal.co.nz/influence-for-impact - or simply send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, download our '10 tips for influence' manual here: https://futurelivingcoach.ck.page/influence-tips