And she’s the only elected leader in the top 10.
Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised for her leadership following the Christchurch attacks last month, but now one American magazine has put a number on it, ranking the New Zealand prime minister second in a list of the “world’s greatest leaders”.
The accolade for Ardern, who leaps up from 29th in the same list last year, is all the more remarkable given that she is the only elected leader in the top 10. The next conventionally elected political figures come in at No 18, in the form of “The Pink Wave: 42 Newly Elected Women [to the] United States Congress”.
Bill and Melinda Gates top the list, for the work their foundation has done in fighting global health crises. Third, one place beneath the New Zealand PM, is Robert Mueller, the man whose appointment as special counsel, we learned this morning, prompted US President Donald Trump to say, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.”
“Jacinda Ardern had already broken new ground as a pregnant woman—and then a new mother—leading a nation,” reads the citation on Fortune. “And this year, the 38-year-old Prime Minister showed the world her fullness as a leader as she deftly, empathetically, and humbly navigated New Zealand through the worst terror attack in its history, after 50 were killed at two mosques in Christchurch in March.”
Pointing to Ardern’s choice of language, and the decision to wear a head scarf, Ardern had “set a standard for dignity in the face of violence by refusing to speak the attacker’s name … Future leaders can look to Ardern for a master class in how to guide a country through a crisis.”
Another staple of US newsstands, Time, this week placed Ardern for the second year running in its own pantheon: the Top 100. In 2018 Facebook’s 2IC Sheryl Sandberg wrote the blurb. This year it’s London mayor Sadiq Khan.
“Jacinda Ardern’s leadership since the attack has been an inspiration to us all,” he writes. “Not only is she delivering such swift action on gun control, she has sent a powerful message around the world about our shared values — that those who seek to divide us will never succeed, and that New Zealand will always protect and celebrate the diversity and openness that make our countries so great.
“Londoners stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Christchurch. We will never forget that when terror sent ripples of fear through communities around the world, New Zealand’s Prime Minister proudly stood up for hope, unity and inclusiveness in the face of fear, division and hatred.”
The international acclaim is justified, even if as often as not it is expressed around the world to underline the perceived inadequacies of other leaders. But while there is an undeniable element of reflected glory for New Zealand, some of it, it’s not always useful: critics love to seize on international coverage to argue that it reveals a public relations focus.
Back in February I asked Ardern what she thought about the international attention, and she said she didn’t really think about it much at all. “I know that for a New Zealand audience and for New Zealand voters, that stuff’s not material, and so for me my focus is always going to be on what we’re doing here domestically. Because, you know, ultimately, I’ll be judged on my performance here, rather than anything that happens anywhere else – and my performance of behalf of New Zealanders.”
After a week in which Ardern announced that a capital gains tax was off the table, and off her agenda forever, the truth of that is clear.
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