Human-first Leadership: 5 Lessons from Jacinda Ardern

If good leadership were people, Jacinda Ardern would be China.

She's received much-deserved universal praise from every corner, in terms of her handling of the covid-19 pandemic, the work she's done to serve the most vulnerable in New Zealand, her support of the LGBTQ community, and not least, her clear dedication and prioritisation of her family.

Just watch this, and see what I mean...

What she demonstrates is human-first leadership—the ability to lead as a human being first, without wanting, trying or pretending to be a leader.

Here are five BIG lessons leaders can learn from her.

No politics

When you hear Jacinda Ardern talk, what shines through is her interest and focus on human beings, not politics. She doesn't play politics, she doesn't try to play three-dimensional chess to make people like her or consolidate her power.

Politics gets in the way of meaningful leadership. It distracts. Think about it—look around in the world at the leaders who play at politics as a priority, at how they fail the people who elevated them to power, and how they miss the point of serving their populations entirely.

The essence of human-first leadership is rendering the old games of politics redundant.

Strength in line with values

As a leader it's right and appropriate to sometimes demonstrate strength. When you have to make a tough call, or put yourself in the line of fire, strength is a quality of leadership that allows you to plant your feet and say "This is it."

But strength for the hell of it isn't strength at all, it's posturing and it's arrogance. For strength to matter, it needs to be in line with what matters most. It has to be aligned with your values.

If what matters most to you in the world is freedom, then have your strength serve that. If what matters most to you in the world is the possibility of human beings, then have your strength serve that. Or if what matters most to you in the world is family, then have your strength serve that.

Not only that, but she encourages others to do the same, as demonstrated in her approach to battling coronavirus, urging citizens to “unite” against it and ending her briefings with the message, “Be strong; be kind.”

Human-first leaders use their strength to serve the things that matter most in the world.

Make a difference to people

"Everything I've ever thought about doing has been, in some sense, about helping people." Jacinda Ardern

Human-first leadership seeks to make a difference to people. It's that simple. It doesn't seek to serve the machinery that gave it power, seek to placate or seek to serve its own agenda. It puts people at the very center of the work, serving them and helping them to be more of who they are, even when it's easier not to. Especially when it's easier not to.

I for one would follow a leader like that in a heartbeat.

No pretending

If you're in a leadership position and find yourself trying hard to be seen as a leader, you're doing it wrong.

It's when you put effort into trying to exhibit leadership qualities, or to be seen as a "good leader" that it's easy to slip into bad habits. Bad habits like serving your own ego, like needing validation and recognition, like trying to be "alpha", like putting up walls so people can't see that you don't know what you're doing.

But when you see Jacinda Ardern in action, it's almost effortless. She smiles and laughs easily. She talks frankly and openly. She isn't just one thing, a one-dimensional "leader". She brings every part of her to what she does, as demonstrated when she made history by taking her family to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, kissing her three-month-old baby and handing her off to her husband before giving an address.

She knows who she is, and doesn't need to pretend to be anything or anyone else.


Not everything will go your way as a leader. You'll make mistakes, and sometimes you'll make the wrong call. There's turbulence and there are curve-balls. You can't possibly have all the answers or have all the right insights, and it's through hearing what others are saying that you flesh out your understanding and might just get a wholly fresh idea.

Empathy helps here, the ability to sense, identify and understand someone else's emotions. Compassion helps here, the ability to hold concern for the challenges, sufferings or misfortunes of others. And vulnerability helps here, the ability to take off the armour and admit that you don't know.

Human-first leadership is knowing that you're not always right, and having the humility and courage to hear what's being said.

Please, can we have more human-first leader like Jacinda Ardern?

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