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Lead With That: What Jacinda Ardern Can Teach Us About Leading with Authenticity, Empathy, and Transparency

image with microphone and lead with that podcast episode title, what jacinda ardern can teach us about leading with authenticity, empathy, and transparency

In this episode of Lead With That, Ren and Allison explore what we can learn from the leadership characteristics of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who currently holds the number 1 spot on Fortune’s list of World’s Greatest Leaders. 

This isn’t the first time Prime Minister Ardern has made Fortune’s Greatest Leaders list, but this is the first time in 2021 that she’s been ranked number 1. When Ardern became Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017 she grabbed international attention for her commitments to national well-being and emphasis on social issues. In 2018, Ardern was the first leader to have a child while in power since Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1990. She also holds the illustrious title of being the first leader to go on maternity leave while in office, returning to work 6 weeks later.  

She was thrust into the spotlight again after the tragedy in Christchurch in New Zealand during 2019. Ardern is often a polarizing figure, with her stance on gun control, climate change, and push for equitable pay. But after Ardern and her party won a landslide reelection victory in October of 2020, her star power and straight talk cannot be ignored. And likely, shouldn’t be. 

In this episode we explore Ardern’s leadership characteristics, examine what makes her such a compelling leader, and how all of us can adopt some of her style to be better leaders ourselves.  

Listen now or read the full transcript below. 

Listen to the Podcast

In this episode, Ren and Allison explore what we can learn about authentic leadership and empathy from Jacinda Ardern.

Interview Transcript:

INTRO:

Welcome back to CCL’s podcast Lead With That. We talk current events and pop culture, we look at where leadership is happening, and what’s happening with leadership.

Ren Washington:

A president of baseball operations for the Cubs, billionaire philanthropists, a group of high school students, and a Chinese ophthalmologist. What do they have in common? They’ve all shared the same mantle as Jacinda Ardern. Not the prime minister of New Zealand, but Ardern there now joins them as holding the number one spot on Fortune’s World’s Greatest Leaders ranking. This isn’t the first time prime minister Ardern has graced Fortune’s Greatest Leaders list, but this is the first time here in 2021 that she’s been ranked number one. When Ardern became prime minister of New Zealand in 2017, she grabbed international attention for her commitments to national wellbeing and emphasis on social issues. In 2018, Ardern was the first leader to have a child while in power since Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 1990. And she holds the illustrious title of being the first leader to go on maternity leave while in office returning to work six weeks later.

She was thrust into the spotlight again after the tragedy in Christchurch in New Zealand during 2019, and she thrived among all that turmoil. Ardern is often a polarizing figure with her stance on gun control, climate change, and push for equitable pay. But after Ardern and her party won a landslide re-election victory in October of 2020, her star power and straight talk cannot be ignored, and likely it shouldn’t be.

Today we want to explore Ardern’s leadership characteristics. We want to dig into what makes her such a compelling leader, but also how any one of us can adopt some of her style to be a better leader ourselves. I’m Ren Washington, one of the partners here at the center, and as usual, I’m joined with another CCL partner and my cohost, Allison Barr. Allison, what would you say your defining leadership characteristic is?

Allison Barr:

Well, I hope that people would say I have the ability to tackle problems from a variety of different angles. There’s usually not one way of looking at an obstacle. So I like to look at all of the different variables.

Ren Washington:

Nice. Yeah. I often say there are many ways up the mountain, and just because we have one path doesn’t mean that there’s not other ways. I used to say many ways to skin a cat, but I feel like that’s really insensitive to cats.

Allison Barr:

Right. Let’s not go there.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. So this Fortune article, I love it. You brought this up and people often talk about, oh, Fortune 500 or Fortune 200, and this is of that fame, right? The Fortune magazine or fortune.com, They’re the ones who have a pulse on business and world leaders, and then seeing this greatest leaders things come across the wire, pretty, pretty interesting stuff.

Allison Barr:

Yeah, absolutely, but I’m going to pause you because you don’t get off scot-free, you’ve got to tell the world what yours is too. What’s your defining leadership quality?

Ren Washington:

Oh, see, now this was not in the script everyone. My defining leadership quality, I think initially was my willingness to do what I would ask of others. And now I’m really trying to cultivate a space to let other people shine so we can win together. And I think this reminds me too, of some of what Ardern’s been able to do and be so effective, but Harry S. Truman, once the US president, he had on his desk this plaque, and I reference it all the time and it said something like, it’s amazing what we can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit.

Allison Barr:

Yup.

Ren Washington:

And so that’s the kind of leadership I’m trying to do right now is how can I kind of get out of my own way and let other people thrive. So there you caught me. I was a little bit prepared for that answer.

Allison Barr:

Busted, yes, great. Yeah, and I agree with you. And I think when I think about Jacinda Ardern too, she certainly exemplifies exactly what your saying, because her reputation is that she’s known to navigate crisis, crisis management in a really powerful and collaborative, empathetic way that you just don’t hear a lot of in at least in politics. I know that’s a specific industry, so to speak, but crisis management in order to navigate that takes exactly what you just said, is allowing for other people to step in where needed.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. And when I was looking at the list of leaders, it was really compelling, and what I wanted to do was say, okay, she was recently named one of the world’s greatest leaders. Let me look at all these other great leaders, and that’s what that lineup was at the top. Everyone I mentioned was a former winner, the baseball club president, that’s Theo Epstein from the Cubs. The philanthropists, that’s Bill and Melinda Gates, who despite their current fame, I think have long been famous for their commitment to the world. The group of high school students, were the group of kids who came together after the shootings around the nation and had that walk on Washington. And then two of the Chinese ophthalmologists, that’s Dr. Lee, the guy who first said, “Hey, corona is coming.” And the Chinese government said, “Hey, you’re not allowed to say that.” And , he died recently and there’s this like living memorial with 850,000 posts around him and a recognition that one voice matters. And when I look at this kind of leadership, or these kinds of people and how they impact the world, it really gets me thinking about, is it teachable? Can these great leaders impart their wisdom so someone else can be a great leader? And so that’s what I’m super excited to talk about with Ardern here today is, what can we learn from this prime minister and her premiership?

Allison Barr:

I think, yeah, there were two things that you said that just stood out to me. The one was in reference to Dr. Lee and being told you can’t say that. And what came to mind for me when I was reading that article and listening to some podcasts about Ardern and her leadership style was this notion of transparency. And I’ll come back to that in a moment, and the other thing that you have me think about is, is leadership teachable? And at CCL, we certainly believe it absolutely is. And what’s interesting to me is that culturally, at least in the US, we consider some of these skills that you’ve mentioned already to be soft skills. I know that’s not labeled that way for people to have a negative perception about them, but I think people do for whatever reason, and perhaps it’s another podcast, but I wish we could get rid of that term, soft skills, because they’re just as valuable.

Ren Washington:

I was having a conversation with someone the other day, and we were talking about this very idea. On your resume, you list all of your hard skills or your technical accomplishments, and the things that you’ve learned. And then when you get into the job, it’s all about the people skills. Do you ever get a promotion in your current job because of the resume that you use to get in the door? I don’t think so. I think it’s usually typically the way that you bring to life all of those things.

And so, yeah, I think getting rid of the binary hard, soft, it speaks to like anyone who would say, I think Simon Sineck was referring to anyone who would say that the people part of this is easy or soft is it would be misplaced, right? These are hard skills to learn. And I think so rarely do we see it in the upper echelon of leadership to have this kind of masterful presentation or way that Ardern is able to bring her leadership to life, to be recognized, and to be looked at as kind of a new kind of politician, or a new kind of world leader.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. And back to what you were saying about resumes, and promotions, and being in the workplace it’s very easy, you can quantify hard skills in a different way than you can, I’m air quoting soft skills right now, right? Like if I say that I’m innovative, or a problem solver, how can I quantify that or qualify it? But you’d have to say Ren Washington once said, when I worked with him on the podcast, right? It’s very hard to show somebody that without showing them that, and you almost, in some ways, rely on your reputation, right? Which Jacinda Ardern certainly has earned one, and being consistent in her leadership style.

Ren Washington:

Well, where do you think our rep comes from? What is her defining leadership characteristic? What do you think about that?

Allison Barr:

Well, I think she has a few. I think she has a few that, and again, that stand out to me being somebody who lives in Colorado and not in New Zealand. So the news and my frame probably looks a little different than somebody who does live in New Zealand. However, what I know that she’s been known for is crisis management around COVID and the Christchurch shootings, and which she was viewed as empathetic, transparent, collaborative, progressive. I mean, her Christchurch call, I mean, it was spearheaded by her though she collaborated with France on that, but it is a forum for world leaders come together in a new way to find a solution to online terrorism. And it’s not that that’s a new request, or a new thought, it’s that she brought people together.

I cannot even begin to imagine holding a space or being able to ask the right questions to foster a productive conversation about that with world leaders when you have culture in mind. There’s so many variables in there that you would have to navigate. It, to me, that is incredible. So you asked me what her, I mean, you asked me what her defining characteristic is. I think she probably has a few. What do you think?

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Well, something you spoke to there throughout, and I think at the end around how is she able to harness that energy of these world leaders, and something that kept coming up for me as I started to, you know, you share with me, “Hey, she got number one leader,” and I said, “Let’s dig in because I think this is a really interesting person.” I’ve heard a lot about her, but I learned so much more about her. And one thing that keeps coming up over and over again for her is this idea of empathy. And if I was cheating and I’m going to cheat right now, I’d say her defining characteristics are empathy and kindness. And just to sit with Christchurch, I read this fast, and I just want to read it to you real quick. After the shooting, she said of the victims, “They are us.” And then she proceeded to say, “New Zealand has been chosen because it was safe. Because it was no place for hatred or racism. Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. Home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it.” And then she addressed the shooter who is she’s famously not ever identified, because she doesn’t want to give that person any notoriety. But she said to the shooter, after that, “You may have chosen us. We utterly reject and condemn you.”

And the way that she was able to harness this empathy and then bring it to kindness, her famed phrase during the Christchurch swell after that was, “We are one.” And she would typically open speeches with Arabic greetings and really cool that she just wore a headscarf in the wake of Christchurch. She didn’t make a public stay about it or why I’m wearing the headscarf. She just did it in like this cool sign of solidarity. And so for me, Ardern’s defining characteristic from what I can tell is empathy. She’s really effectively able to empathize and be kind. It’s crazy. Yeah.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. And while you were reading that to me, I thought, again, I’m referencing my own experience here is different than living in New Zealand, which is in a country where I’ve never lived, right? So I know culturally, there’s probably some differences as well, but it seems brave to do that too. Right? There’s courage in offering that kind of message to everybody in the globe and also condemning and choosing a side outright, which in that situation to me seems very obvious that it’s okay to pick a side. However, not a lot of people, not a lot of leaders will do that. Not a lot of leaders outright do that. So there’s some courage and what she said as well.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. And something else that I find really appealing about her style is that she’s got kindness, she’s got empathy, but she’s not afraid to play some hard ball.

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

And like you said, she’ll call it like she sees it. I mean, you spoke about crisis management. And I thought to myself, geez, not only good at crisis management, but after the Christchurch, and then I was reading and watching all the debate around gun control and gun violence in New Zealand, and just overnight, almost overwhelming majority said were outlawing, we are banning that kind of semi-automatic weapon that was used. And I was just, as an American, anytime gun control comes into the mix, I recognize kind of like, well, that’s a non-starter. People just aren’t going to let that kind of control happen. And it was really interesting, and I know New Zealand is different than America, but to get people to just almost en mass say, “Yeah, we’re not going to take this anymore. This isn’t a moral or ethical debate. This kind of violent weaponry does not deserve to be in the hands of violent people. We’re going to try to make it harder for that to happen.” And she’s just willing to draw these lines in the sand and empathize, be kind, and be tough.

Allison Barr:

Yes. And I love what you said there, because someone who’s empathetic can be a lot of other things and somebody who is independent or collaborative. You can be multiple things at the same time. So the ability to have empathy, whether it’s a crisis or not, but be an empathetic leader, and understand that you are dealing with human beings around you, it’s something we don’t hear about a lot. It’s something that I don’t hear about a lot. It’s sort of become a catchphrase to like, at least in the US you look around any leadership materials, whether it’s magazines or books, and empathy’s sort of the new thing that we’re all talking about. While it’s not that new, right? A lot of people have known this for a long time that it’s an important skill set to have. I think it was believed to be something that it’s not, and she’s proved how valuable it can be.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Well, and then again, I’m brought to how we reflecting well can we teach these things? And empathy has been kind of a buzzword, and it goes in and out of vogue, but it’s been around, and when I think of our coaching practice, yeah at CCL, I think one of our magic part of our secret sauce is we do great development work with leaders. You and I we’re in these programmatic classrooms. We’re building these journeys where people have face-to-face interactions and they go home and they apply and they come back. And then two, we teach the value of coaching conversation. We teach people how to be coaches. And we talk about how someone can be a better coach. And when we help leaders be better coaches, I think it always starts with that empathy. How can you just put yourself in another person’s shoes? Or my favorite Covey line is just listened to understand before being understood. And I think really being empathetic and listening first is, I think it’s easier for people than they might think. It is such a buzzword, and I think people take for granted, “Oh, I know what empathy is,” when really they’re talking about sympathy or something like it.

Allison Barr:

Right. Right. And I think about immediately, the image that comes to mind is this management spectrum of behaviors, where on the far left hand side is being direct and telling people what to do. And then on the far other side is coaching, listening, question asking. And then of course, if you’re a manager or a leader, you fall all over that spectrum in any given day, but most leaders will tell you they’re very comfortable in the directive space. And some of the people that I’ve worked with have said, it’s not that I’m uncomfortable in the listening space. It’s I don’t have time. I don’t have time to sit down with people. I don’t have time. And imagine the time you could save on the backend however, if you did spend some time coaching, and sitting down, and asking questions in a similar way. I think it could save you time in the backend.

Ren Washington:

Yes. The prototypical CCL slow down to power up.

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

How can we just do a little bit of work in front, so we can move even faster towards the end? And I love that continuum that you were talking about. I do really interesting exercises. You’ve probably done it where we get our participants in a room and we say who’s has been the worst leader you ever have, and where do they fall on that continuum? Who’s been the best? Where are you most comfortable? And typically what I find is that the directive tends to be the worst leaders. Not that you can’t be effective in that space, but a lot of telling, a lot of saying, without a lot of the why, or listening can be hard to swallow sometime. But I love to think of those continuums that they can operate anywhere, because I think what makes Ardern special is her willingness and ability to empathize. Her willingness to just listen, to be quiet for a little bit.

But on the other end, she’s ready to go. I mean, the Labor Party right now, they have a dominant hold of New Zealand’s House. And she’s the charge of it. She’s been in the Labor Party since he was 17. So she’s like a legit lifelong active in the political space, but whether or not she’s a career politician, it’s interesting, like New Zealand’s having a wage discussion now for public workers. Teachers, and people sponsored by the government for healthcare, and transport, and there was a wage freeze. And what that means is they just, the Labor Party came out and said, “Look, while we debate this, we’re going to freeze these wages,” and she since kind of walked it back and said, “Well, this won’t be a decision that just the government will make, we’ll negotiate on it.” But for people who aren’t totally her fan, they’re kind of like, “Yo look at her and make that decision.” That was a hammer down, kind of listen, I’m going to lay down the law.

And so I think she’s able to move freely in that space of the developmental or the coaching, as opposed to that directive. And when I think about what I can take away from that, or what other leaders can is that we aren’t just one thing, and the best leaders leverage all of their assets across the whole kind of continuum there.

Allison Barr:

Right. And in the story you were just sharing about the wages conversation, something that stands out to me and stood out to me when you were just speaking about that is that she’s incredibly transparent, and transparency is something that stood out to me as an interesting, and similar to empathy, often misunderstood leadership quality. I was talking to a friend last week who had a really interesting response to this quality of leadership. And she said to me, “Allison, my team is on a need to know basis. Why would I tell them things that don’t directly impact their work? Why would I tell them things?” And her frame comes from being valuing efficiency is the most important thing. So she’s not withholding necessarily, it’s just, why would I tell people this thing? It might slow them down. What are your thoughts on that? Is there a downside to transparency?

Ren Washington:

In the true sense of today’s podcast? I can empathize with her concerns. I could totally understand if you’re trying to get things done quickly, you don’t want to bog people down with information they might not need. My point of view on transparency, and we talk a lot about this in change management or in the work that we’re doing is just let me know what you are or are not going to tell me. You and I talk about this a lot I think around the messaging, just tell me where the borders are. Just tell me what you want me to do. And I think leaders can say, “Hey, some things are happening, some things I’m going to tell you, some things I’m not going to tell you. And I want us to keep this line of communication open, and I will tell you as much as I think that I can, and we can work together to talk about what you think is need to know.”

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

Maybe I think working with people collaborating and say, “Okay, what’s need to know?” Because I think you’ll find on a team of five, two people really don’t want to know, but kind of like, I don’t need to know that stuff. Don’t say don’t email me. And one person might really, really want to know.

Allison Barr:

Yup.

Ren Washington:

And there’s probably some people in between. So I think a long winding answer, as you know, is my way to your question. I would say that too [crosstalk 00:20:14] much transparency.

Allison Barr:

You’re going to say it depends.

Ren Washington:

Yeah, it depends, right? Too much transparency. I don’t know. Just engage with people. Ask them a question and meet people where they are. I think that’s a sweet spot. Would you tell her? What’s the answer?

Allison Barr:

Well, it depends. It depends. And it is about clarifying what transparency means. Transparency, it doesn’t mean you’re an open book. That’s not what that means. It does mean you’re being open and honest about matters that are related to your business. Clarity, right? Clarity around obstacles and not just successes. So it can also mean exactly what you just said. Hey, I can’t communicate that with you right now. Or it could mean, I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know a ton of leaders who are comfortable in that space, in that space of transparency. I don’t know the answer. Let me think on that and get back to you.

Transparency does mean having transparency in the business, right? If you are a human beings operating an organization, no matter how big or small, your problems can get solved much faster if your people know what they are. I don’t know how an organization can be expected to solve a problem effectively if people aren’t clear, very clear on what it is. And I think COVID is a good example of that from a business perspective. A lot of businesses were hit hard from financial perspective, but transparency can be a unifier. Here’s what we’re dealing with, right? And I think that’s what she does a good job of, at least in the wage conversation that you were referencing. It’s like you called it direct. I call it transparent, probably a very similar thing, but it’s an example of how you rally people. How are we going to solve this if we’re not talking about it?

Ren Washington:

Yeah. And I think one of the other effective or parts of her leadership that makes her so effective is her communication. And especially around her why. I think the COVID pandemic was an interesting exploration in how New Zealand was so successful managing it. I mean, granted, there might not be the most populous nation. They are a series of islands, and they have some natural geographic advantages, but also they were really, really clear around we’re not just going to suppress the virus, we want to completely eliminate it. In every step of the way, and every kind of thing that they did, she was expressing the why. Telling people what the reason was behind it and what the payoff was. And I mean, I think the newest numbers, New Zealand has something like five million people, fewer than 2,700 cases of COVID and only 26 deaths.

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

And so those are pretty awesome numbers. And I think it’s really a testament to saying, communicating to the nation and saying, this is what we want to get accomplished, and this is why we want to get it accomplished. And so when I think about empathy and kindness, those have to be hallmarks of her style, but also her transparency, her communication is so effective, I think, because she’s transparent around what’s happening, but also why, what has happened.

Allison Barr:

Right? Yeah. And it’s a unifier, and you spoke earlier about her being almost being in relationship to people without being directly in relationship to them, but based on how she speaks. And if I translate that to the workplace, when you have solid relationships at the workplace, you allow for misunderstandings to be resolved much faster, because people can get on the same page quicker. So I just like to remind people that when we’re at work, we’re still dealing with human beings. We don’t turn off certain aspects of ourselves just because we’re at work. And when you can understand each other it’ll fast track the whole organization in a similar way that you’re just mentioning. She was able to unify people.

Again, there will be people listening who will say, well, what about this variable and this variable? Absolutely. There are cultural differences. There’s a lot to be talked about from that perspective too. But the point is, is that her leadership style was transparent, honest, empathetic. She was able to bring people together to feel unified, to tackle a problem together in a way that is really unique.

Ren Washington:

Does that work in America?

Allison Barr:

Well, it… That’s an interesting question. I mean, do you mean in politics? What do you mean?

Ren Washington:

Both? I don’t know if we’re, the politics we might be here for six hours talking about that, but just for like what we do when we think about leadership, because you referred to a lot of cultural things. And as I was digging into this, I was thinking, okay, empathy, kindness, great. She was able to accomplish a lot. I mean, something at one point in 2020, she had a poll showing a 92% support rate.

Allison Barr:

I saw that.

Ren Washington:

Something bonkers like that. So I’m like, well, that definitely doesn’t happen in America. So we’re a pretty polarized culture I think in America. And I think that kind of can show up in business. So would her style really work in America?

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I think there are probably plenty of business leaders who have a similar style. They just don’t get talked about as much for whatever reasons. But yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is everything that we research, everything that we talk about is… Not everything. A lot of what we talked about is built around trust on a team equals high performance. Psychological safety on a team equals high-performance. What do you have with those things? You have clarity and communication, empathy, everything that we’re talking about right now. So we know that. It’s, I think depends on the workplace culture. It depends on where you are. It depends on a lot of things, in the US we are a hodgepodge of culture anyway, so you could be in a different industry and it’s wildly different. So yes, to answer your question, absolutely. It can work and it does work.

Ren Washington:

Well, I love, you know, we’re a hodgepodge of cultures and that’s key. If I can empathize with the variants that I have in my organization and just get people a little bit more invested, I’m going to have so many more wins. We’re going to pay off some big dividends. And so I think empathy, yes, I too think empathy is a way to think about work. And I think it kind of circles back to the conversation we had earlier around hard and soft skills. A lot of leadership, and a lot of the big leadership transition conversation that we’re having right now is I think a paradigm shift in how things are done. Where there was a time where I didn’t have to tell you what to do or why, or why to do something, I just tell you what to do, and you do it.

Ren Washington:

As a new parent, we were talking about the teenage girls in our lives. I’m recognizing that maybe I should start practicing some of what I preach when I talk to leaders and say, “Hey, say more of the why,” because really, as communicating the why to my teenage children enables me to start to see the value of obviously you don’t treat people like children, but have a communication with people around the same core ideas. This is why we’re doing something, and yeah, I hear you. It can be scary or it can be tough, because I’ve been in your shoes before, and then maybe looping it in with some kindness, and all of a sudden you are on Fortune’s Greatest Leaders of the World.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I mean, gosh, we could have another podcast about teenagers. So I won’t get into that. And I was also thinking about the team performance model from Dr. Morgenson in Michigan. I think you know that one too, but there’s three pillars essentially that every team and organization needs to have high performance. And the one that’s often missed is the conversation around interpersonal dynamics. It’s often overlooked. People are really comfortable in the planning and executing phases generally. Like when you talk about learning skillsets, those seem to be easier for people to learn, and the interpersonal tends to get overlooked. And what are your thoughts on that? Why do you think that is? If we know, like here’s your formula for high-performing, why do you think interpersonal gets overlooked?

Ren Washington:

We’re just not good at it.

Allison Barr:

That can’t be the only reason.

Ren Washington:

I think it is. I think it is. I mean, we talked about it again, go into the paradigm again of hard and soft. For generations people have learned and honed hard skills. For generations soft skills were looked at as weak or less than, or not important. It goes back to look, I don’t care what people feel or think about this. This is what I tell you to do. I’m your leader and you do it. And I think the shift in the fact that I think some interesting challenges with people that I work with, they say, “Gosh, all these new people, these millennials, these Gen Z’s, they want so much more out of the work.

And I don’t know if it’s more, it just looks different. Where they recognize that I don’t have to work at one organization for 40 years, then clock out, get my gold watch and call it a day. There’s so much more pull for talent. So many more places where people can realize their goals, that the conversation has to change. So I think the reason the interpersonal stuff is gone is because people just don’t know how to do it. They just don’t get, hey, do you like Modern Family Allison? You ever see that show?

Allison Barr:

Am I going to get a slap on the wrist if I say I’ve never seen it? Because that would be the truth. I’ve never seen that. Yeah.

Ren Washington:

Listeners, don’t chastise her too much. We can forgive her.

Allison Barr:

Don’t judge me. Don’t judge me.

Ren Washington:

But I look at that show as a really interesting reflection of, I think some of our culture in America where there’s this patriarch of the family, the grandfather, his name is Jay. And he’s got some very, what I might consider old-school ways of looking at it. The most recent episode, we’re watching it back through with the family, and the most recent episode he was saying to his whole family, he said, “You should be lucky for what I’ve given you. I didn’t get any of this from my father. My father kissed me once on the back of the head in my whole life, and it was because he thought I was my sister.” And it’s just an interesting frame of, I think there was a lot of leaders who came up in that way, where it was a do and say, and it doesn’t really matter about you as person. And so we just haven’t sharpened those saws. And so it’s the first one to go when we get into teams.

Allison Barr:

And I’m going to back you up to what you said a few moments ago, which was we just, we weren’t, I’m paraphrasing, we weren’t raised that way. You weren’t, it doesn’t sound like maybe you weren’t. Women, for the most part, are, and I don’t want to take this too much down a rabbit hole. However, we do have to keep in mind socialization too, and gender norms, and what’s expected and what’s reinforced. And for, not every man, but for a lot of men, it’s not reinforced to behave in that way. And so it is probably more of an obstacle, and for women we’re seen as emotional, and I will remind people that anger is also an emotion, right? So it’s an interesting perspective to think of too.

So like generationally generations are interesting to look at as well, but it’s also a matter of socialization culture too. Depends on where you grew up. Like there’s so much in that conversation that it can be learned. It just needs to be accepted, and people need to find comfort in these types of things, and I don’t think we’re there yet as a general population.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Well, shout out to mom and dad, I think you did raise me to care about people and to hone my soft skills. So I think I was raised to be able to handle some of it, but typically yes, I would say that the over, I know now we’re carving into another podcast.

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

I think some of… Yeah. So some of the structure of that, you call out a really important tension. And I think that maybe there is something about how Ardern was raised, and maybe too there’s a highlight that what we’ve long looked at as a weakness, and now it’s my turn to do air quotes, so there’s a weakness of femininity in leadership. And my step-daughter’s Cherokee, her dad is Cherokee, and we talk a lot about how the matriarchal society that is Cherokee in the First Nations people. And I may have mentioned this before, but it’s interesting. It’s this matriarchy first, it’s this idea that men have typically been conquers and always reach for more and more, and women are stabilizers and start to build community and start to move it outward. And those things take different skill sets. And maybe that conquer first mentality, not to say that women can’t conquer, I think there’s plenty of examples of all of us being able to do all things, but you raise an interesting point. Is Ardern’s womanhood an asset? I’d say yes. Generally, I think people’s identity is an asset, but maybe specifically for her, it is an asset.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. Yeah, it is… Well, again, I think we’ll go down a rabbit hole if we continue here, and I’d be happy to, but maybe we can sidebar that for another podcast. But the point that I think we’re both making is that these skill sets that we’re both referring to are very valuable, right? And so when I think about empathy, trust, transparency, directness, all of those things really can lead to progressing an organization. I mean, we’ve seen her progress an entire country, right?

Ren Washington:

Yeah.

Allison Barr:

How she handles crisis, and how her ratings are off the chart. I’ve never heard of any world leaders like 90, what did you say? 96% or was it 91?

Ren Washington:

92%.

Allison Barr:

  1. 92% is-

Ren Washington:

Well, like in the eighties consistently. It’s just nuts.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I mean, yeah, that’s wild. And so I think it’s important for us to think about honing in on those skillsets. And I want to go back to, can they be taught? My answer would be yes to that. And it’s just going to take practice.

Ren Washington:

Right.

Allison Barr:

Our leaders in the US probably were heavily focused for a long time, like you said, on strategy, strategy, strategy, plan, goals, execution. And that human piece, right? Like the real inter-relational piece is the, how. So it’s incredibly important. You just have so many different types of people that you work with. And I think like Ardern does, she speaks to everybody. She doesn’t speak to just one type of person and the ability to do that can definitely support your growth and success in an organization.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Yeah. I think that if I were to, as I reflect on her leadership characteristics and the major takeaways for any of you listening, and just still to for my own development is that it’s the tension between is kindness, weakness? That old phrase don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. And I think there’s been such a steady drum beat to that, that to show kindness is almost a faux pas. And I think, for me, empathy and kindness is not weakness. And in fact, empathy and kindness can unlock human potential. And I think for a leader, cultivating and practicing empathy, practicing compassion and kindness, that’s a path to making your teams more effective, your organization more effective, your actions, more effective. We just got a dog bomb, I love it.

Allison Barr:

Sorry. Yeah.

Ren Washington:

No worries.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. And going back to something you said a lot earlier in this podcast was you’d referenced coaching and questions. And for people who might be listening, who think truly, how do I do that? A really good place to start is by asking questions first, rather than telling and assuming that your direct report, or your team, or your entire organization might know things already. It’s like, “Well Ren, what do you want me to know about XYZ? Or what are your thoughts on XYZ?” I think a good place to start is by asking questions, and I always think about that transparency piece too. And what you said about kindness. Kindness also means that you’re giving feedback and it’s critical. Kindness also means that you are allowing [inaudible 00:35:57] to ask for help. Kindness means your direct, kindness doesn’t have to mean being a pushover. I think that’s how sometimes people view it. And that’s not what it means. There’s kindness and being clear and direct.

I think if I were going to have one takeaway for people, and it’s sort of shifted since we started this conversation, but it’s to not put yourself on an island. One thing that I think is incredibly stand out from Ardern’s style is that she enrolls other people, and she does it by way of having these conversations and collaboration in a transparent way, right? And in a kind way, in a direct way. And she really builds these positive interactions across her country and across the globe. She’s well-respected, people want to work with her. And you can really strengthen the quality of your team and your relationships by way of dialogue, and profound dialogue with others.

Ren Washington:

Yeah.

Allison Barr:

Yeah.

Ren Washington:

So maybe leave it at that.

Allison Barr:

Yeah, exactly. So lead with that, right? Lead with kindness, lead with dialogue, and practice those questions. Practice asking questions. You’ll be surprised what you might uncover. And as always Ren, I thank you for joining me today and thanks for having this conversation. And as we close out for today, I want to thank our behind the scenes hero, Ryan, for helping us on the technical side of things and making this podcast happen. And to our listeners, you can find our show notes and links to our podcasts at ccl.org. And we look forward to tuning in with you next time. Thanks Ren.

Ren Washington:

Thanks Allison. Thanks everyone. We’ll see you next time.

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