Lessons from the mighty Jacinda – how to be an ace communicator (and leader)

Politicians from across the globe can only dream of emulating her success, a generation applaud her across social media wanting to claim her as their own leader – the number of people ‘crushing’ on her is ‘unprecedented’ (if you know you know…), but how does she do it?

Since she became Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017, Jacinda Arden has made waves around the world due to her innate ability to connect with people and say the right thing at the right time.

It’s not as if she’s had an easy time of it, firstly a major terrorist attack at a mosque, followed by a volcanic eruption and now the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout which, her all-important approval rating, which makes or breaks politicians, has remained at an impressive 65%.

So what can we learn from her handling of the coronavirus pandemic? What is it about the way she communicates that makes her so engaging and defines her leadership that so many aspire to?

Be clear and consistent – the first rule of successful communications is to have a clear message. (particularly pertinent given last night’s announcement from UK Government) Say what you mean, mean what you say and stick to it! It sounds surprisingly simple, but it’s amazing how often people over complicate it.

Fortunately, Jacinda has nailed it when it comes to being clear and consistent, which is why people buy in to what she’s saying and connect with her. When she decided to move New Zealand into a ‘level 3’ response to coronavirus (having clearly laid out what levels 1-4 were previously), she did this in a live, televised announcement, with an open press Q&A immediately after. In contrast to the UK, which had a pre-recorded message from the Prime Minister issuing a set of instructions.

She was also clear in her explanations – New Zealand had a relatively low number of cases of coronavirus and therefore a small window of opportunity to get ahead of the curve and avoid the fate of other countries. Her message was simple and consistent, ‘We act decisively, go early and go hard.’

Pick your words – when emotions are heightened, and people are at their most sensitive it’s so important to pick your words carefully. The language you use to convey what you wantto say can have a huge impact on how well it’s received, never mind the facts or noble intentions behind it.

Jacinda’s approach is a prime example of getting this right. She’s asking pretty much the same as leaders in other countries – for people to isolate, stay indoors, away from loved-ones and give up their livelihoods for weeks. But the crucial difference is, she gets the buy-infrom her audience, the public. How does she do it? Through the language she uses (it’s not complicated…).

In her communications, she frequently uses phrases such as ‘We are asking you to…’ or ‘Together we can…..’ . The crucial difference is she’s not telling people what to do, she’s asking them. In doing so, she’s making the public feel empowered, that they are coming together to fight the virus, not being dictated to by the Government from their Ivory tower.

You’ll also very rarely hear Jacinda use the word lockdown, instead she refers to the ‘bubble’, a seemingly small detail but one that has a huge difference in sentiment. The word lockdown inferring harsh, Government controlled restrictions, while the ‘bubble’ is perceived as a safe space of your own construct.

Have empathy – some people are naturally caring and empathetic towards others, Jacinda certainly comes across as one of these people. Many leaders are afraid that showing they care will be seen as a weakness. In reality, opening up the ‘real you’ can allow you to connect with people in a more genuine way and on a more personal, different level.

While there is of course a time and a place for formality when it comes to serious matters such as the coronavirus, Jacinda manages to move proficiently from a press conference to amore relaxed Facebook live, where she shows a little more of her ‘real’ side.

Appearing in a casual green sweatshirt having just put her child to bed, she broadcast a Facebook live the night New Zealand moved to level 4, 48 hours after her televised press conference announcing the new restrictions.

This was a communications master stroke in reminding the public of her ‘We’re all in this together’ message. Jacinda at home, just like anyone else, working with the rest of her community to fight the virus. Live questions were a golden opportunity to connect with her audience and show she understood; “As a parent myself I know how difficult it is not to go to play parks, the challenge is the virus can live for up to 72 hours on play equipment,”’ she answered one question, parent to parent, rather than Prime Minster to anonymous member of the public.

Even before the coronavirus crises, Jacinda realised that she had to put herself in the shoes of other people to really understand and connect with them. When a white supremacist opened fire on a mosque in Christchurch, she was by the side of the mourners sharing in their grief, promising to pay for all the victims funerals. When the volcano on White island erupted killing and injuring many, she was quick to acknowledge and praise the emergency services who had put their own lives on the line to rescue others.

Be yourself – with honesty and empathy at the heart of her leadership and communication style, Jacinda ended her appearance on TV just before New Zealand went in to lockdown byasking people to ‘be kind’ to one another. Not to become self-appointed enforcers and look for people breaking the restrictions but to look out for and help each other by being strong and kind.

The ‘be kind’ message worked for Jacinda, it is part of her philosophy and approach and it emulates her own values – it therefore ‘rang true’ with her audience. Granted, it wouldn’t work for everyone, but the real lesson here is to find what works for you. What are your values? What ‘rings true’ for you that might also resonate with your audience? Once you’ve uncovered that you’re halfway there. Communications that stem from a place of authenticity can be hugely powerful.

As Jacinda said herself when she was interviewed by the Guardian in 2017, a week before she won the election and became Prime Minister, “I can only be myself. I am never going to replicate any other great leader. They’ve done amazing things in and of their own right but I am Jacinda Arden.”

 

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