Jacinda Ardern opens up on 'kind' leadership style, says pressure to choose aggression over mercy 'doesn't sit well'

Jacinda Ardern says if choosing kindness means people don't accept her as a leader, then "so be it".
Jacinda Ardern says if choosing kindness means people don't accept her as a leader, then "so be it". Photo credit: Newshub.

Jacinda Ardern has opened up on her reputation as a kind leader and dealing with the pressure to show aggression and staunchness in a deeply personal chat with former All Black Sir John Kirwan.

The revealing interview, recorded for an episode of mental wellbeing podcast Open Minded, also covers her mental health journey, what she wants her legacy to be and the balancing act of raising a child while leading a country.

In one particularly poignant moment, the Prime Minister spoke about fighting the expectation to be stoic and merciless in leadership, and instead choosing to be kind.

While Ardern's 'kind' image is one of the features of her leadership that draws the most praise - particularly for how it was deployed during New Zealand's COVID-19 response - it's also been used to undermine her over the past year.

Australian journalist Adam Creighton said he believed her likeability "means people ignore the actual policies", while former National Party leader Paula Bennett told Magic Talk her pleas for Kiwis to be kind during the coronavirus crisis were "patronising", and had the opposite effect.

Most recently, British political satire show Spitting Image featured a musical sketch about Ardern that ridiculed her reputation with the line: "I'm kind and young and kind and smart, and good and kind and young."

Despite the mockery she's received, however, Ardern believes her decision to prioritise kindness is actually a "really simple" one.

"What do we teach our kids?" she asked Sir John.

"If you ask someone what they want for their kids when they're older, often we revert to those values: we want our kids to be happy; we want them to feel loved and supported; we want them to be treated well by others; and we want them to treat others well.

"If those are the values that are so important to us that we teach them to our kids, then we should expect those same values from our leaders."

She says it's a simple formula - but doesn't always translate well into the expectations people hold for their leaders.

"Something happened along the way, where we said kids need to be kind but leaders need to be staunch, aggressive, show no mercy and definitely show no weakness. That just doesn't sit well with me.

"I've always been of the view that if behaving like that meant people didn't accept me as a leader, then so be it. I'd rather be myself."

Earlier in the interview, Ardern said when she's on her deathbed, she hopes she can look back and say she conducted herself with integrity, stayed true to who she was and kept her family together.

Ardern says ultimately, everything else is meaningless, joking that she won't remember what policy she introduced in the third quarter of 2021.

Watch the full interview here.