Some of you might have read that headline and thought I was playing on the popular phrase, Chai pe Charcha. Honestly, that wasn’t my intention. For now, indulge me on the smart wordplay it turned out to be.
But there is more to it as you scroll down. PS: I did spend my morning teatime having a make-believe conversation with my new favorite leader on the block: Jacinda Ardern.
Among a lot of things, the past few months of the coronavirus pandemic have been the biggest test of political leadership the world has witnessed in decades. In the absence of a rule book, political leaders have to bank on their own strengths and presence as they deem fit.
I have been following the 39-year old Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who has fast been forging a unique path and style since she took over. At the time of her appointment at the age of 37, she became the world’s youngest female leader. She has not only led New Zealand to do remarkably well through the crisis, but her soothing demeanor and approach have also struck a chord with people on an emotional level.
Helen Clark, New Zealand’s prime minister from 1999 to 2008, put it succinctly when she said that Ardern “doesn’t preach at them; she’s standing with them”.
Ardern’s authentic and resonant leadership style has received much airtime in recent years, but what makes her stand out? What makes her presence so strong? The answer lies in three key traits of leadership and presence that she embodies—trust, emotional intelligence, and authenticity. Or what we call the Harappa TEA skills. (For more on the Harappa TEA skills or the values essential for building presence, check out our Building Presence course)
Let’s dig deeper to understand how Ardern champions these skills in her approach.
While Ardern has several skills we look up to in a leader, let’s zoom into her ability to build a presence with the people through TEA.
If you are trustworthy, people will connect with you. This connection allows people to feel comfortable in your presence, and be themselves around you. The ability to build connections with people translates into trust even if you haven’t known them for very long. Simple things like expressing vulnerability, being truthful, relying on facts, being good at what you do, and going the extra mile can go a long way in building bridges with people.
In a world where we have to constantly engage with people in a meaningful way, whether in the offline or online world, understanding the emotions of those around you and knowing how to react to them, therefore, becomes extremely important. It’s all about having the ability or capacity to put yourself in another person’s shoes, experience their feelings, and understand why they feel that way.
It is about being real, genuine, and sincere in your work and daily life. People can immediately sense when you are being insincere or fake. This causes uncertainty in their minds and they are slow to trust you and talk to you. Being true to yourself also builds self-confidence in your actions.
You’d be as impressed as I am if you watched Ardern’s regular Facebook Live Chats with the people of New Zealand. My favorite one was when she showed up wearing a casual green jumper soon after announcing a lockdown and explained that she had just put her daughter to bed. She said she wanted to “check in with everyone as we prepare to hunker down for a few weeks.”
Now, which world leader does that? I will tell you who does that: my friend who stays in Munich or Bangalore or my overly concerned sibling from Dubai. Ardern wins hearts not only with her emotional intelligence but the trust she builds with people through her openness and reliability.
And then I knew exactly how she was feeling when she said, “I am trying to read everyone’s feedback as I go (on Facebook live).” It’s an exercise I fail miserably at—that’s the kind of authenticity Ardern demonstrates.
Ardern’s style is catchy, she provides a role model for a new type of leader—one who talks to millions in comfortable clothes and in an informal tone, empathizes and goes that extra mile to reassure people. What makes her presence so strong is that it is based on trustworthiness, emotional intelligence, and authenticity. Cheers to TEA!
Samta Arora is the Director of Learning Impact at Harappa Education. A nerd at heart, she spends the wee hours on weekends deconstructing actions and words of world leaders – particularly wowed this weekend by leaders who adorn vulnerability and authenticity as a sign of courage.
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