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  • Writer's pictureStu Lloyd

How Jacinda Ardern Leads with Stories.

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has just been returned to power for a second term in a landslide victory.

I find Jacinda fascinating in terms of leadership and storytelling intersecting.

Firstly we should understand that she's got a Bachelor of Communication Studies in Public Relations and Political Science from University of Waikato. This has given her a bedrock foundation on which to build and articulate her messages -- whether you agree with them or not -- clearly and with stickiness.

Overlay this with empathy, charisma and compassion, and her opposition, Judith 'Crusher' Collins was clearly the wrong person for the times.

Sadly Ardern's first term has sadly handed her three platforms to demonstrate this beautiful brand of leadership: the Christchurch Massacre, the White Island Volcano disaster, and Covid.

Her messaging has been on point in each one.

"They Are Us," she said of the predominantly Muslim victims of the Mosque massacre, immediately rendering all as insiders, as New Zealanders. Total unequivocal inclusivity. Three short punchy words which let everyone know how she felt and what we should be feeling. Unified. Circle the wagons -- all of us were attacked.

And when Covid struck, she summed up her national strategy in just four words: "Go Hard, Go Early." It was all people needed to know about New Zealand's strategy for total elimination of the virus as they went straight to Stage 4 lockdown restrictions. No pussy-footing around. Compare this to the UK's first slogan: "Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives." Not surprisingly, that -- in tandem with chaotic enforcement and hypocritical behaviour, even involving some of the very ministers who'd put it in place -- had no effect.

So the UK had a second stab at messaging: "Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives." Which sounds like maybe they asked the minister in charge of terrorism for his two cents' worth. Yes still they allowed people to fly into the country without mandatory quarantine, and the epidemic ran away from them.

And so, amid record numbers of new cases and still-open pubs and restaurants, they came up with a third draft: "Hands. Face. Space." Aah, now that actually reminds me of three key things I could conceivably remember and act on.

By contrast, New Zealand has smashed the virus. Just 1500 or so cases in total and no active cases. International travel is back, as is rugby to packed stadiums.

When you have a vision and a mission, there's nothing like a strong and memorable story to bring it to life and align your team behind it.

But you must remember to lead by human example, Crusher. A good story on its own is just a story. We've got to walk the talk, too.

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