The events that have transpired in New Zealand recently have been widely discussed, as has the action taken by the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Rather than demonstrate qualities of a typical politician, being calculated and full of agenda, she let her humanity shine through and reacted from the heart. She cared more that people were hurting and in that time, they just needed someone to listen. She showed empathy, compassion and a genuine desire to help those in need at a time they needed it. Now, she has been able to step back into her powerful role and make decisive change.
At all times, PM Ardern never lost her humanity during these events, even though she holds the most powerful office in New Zealand. Her leadership qualities and strength of unity for all Kiwi’s is now being talked about worldwide as a benchmark, and for good reason too. But most may lose sight of what the key aspect to what made her actions so remarkable, the fact that she was a human first, and a PM second.
How did we get here?
Humanity studies have been on the decline over the past 200 years – so let me give you a brief history lesson. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, humans differentiated themselves from other animals through a distinct trait they displayed – culture. Through working together as a tribe in hunting, sharing thoughts and ideas, sharing tools and eventually stories through artwork, humans had a genuine desire to ensure that our species survived and it was this culture that made us distinctive. Hence why our fragile bodies have been able to become an apex predator and so powerful in the world – there is no species on the planet that can affect its environment more than humans.
Fast forward through to the Renaissance period when people would flock to Universities to learn Philosophy and the works of Socrates and Plato, which reinvigorated the desire to share ideas and have a genuine care for other humans – modern medicine was predicated through this period. But somewhere in the Industrial Revolution, the desire to accumulate wealth or power became more important than advancing the human species or caring about the environment we live in and hence why it has been the most violent period for humanity and why humanity studies have been on the decline.
This is a systemic issue that we all face. We, as humans, have become accustomed to nice things; a new car, a nice house, those new shoes! But we have also become accustomed to the realities of violence caused by a perceived ‘difference’ in others. The desire for wealth and power is what drives business today, but unfortunately, this comes usually at the cost of one of two things: humanity or the environment.
In my experience with both business and political leaders lose sight of the fact that we are humans: We all breathe a balanced mix of Nitrogen, Oxygen and trace elements; we all have the same colour blood running through our bodies at a constant temperature of 37C; and we all need shelter from the rain. Unfortunately though, as long as we are making profits for shareholders or getting re-elected in power, then everything else can just wait to these leaders. This is why PM Ardern looks so different…she practiced being a human first, and a politician second.
So what takeaways are there for business leaders? In every decision you make, think: “Is this going to make humanity better?” “Is this going to help a particular person become a better person to make humanity better?” “Is this going to make the environment we live in more sustainable?” “Is this going to help another human regardless of how the outcomes affect myself?” If we start asking these questions, then hopefully, as business leaders, we can start bringing the humanity back into focus and be a human first, and a business leader second.