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Our nation’s leaders are human too

It has only been four days since Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern resigned, but it seems longer.

The initial shock was replaced by praise, both domestic and international. After the surprise came speculation. Who would replace her? What did this mean for New Zealand, the economy, and the upcoming general election? Now we have a new Prime Minister in Chris Hipkins. He will inevitably face even more questions. He has big shoes to fill. Does he have the charisma, strength, and numbers to win in October? Or will this be Luxon’s year – an opportunity to step forward from the shadows of opposition and onto the world stage?

New Zealand has moved into a new political era – as one Chris faces off against another.

There is no doubt the challenges are real; the post-covid world is not easy to navigate. Rising interest rates, supply chain problems, and high prices mean every household is feeling financial pressure. Mortgage payments are now increasing faster than rents, a problem unthinkable even 24 months ago. Food banks are busier than they have been in years.

Covid poses ongoing uncertainties. A fragile economy where house prices are falling means people will be looking to leaders for answers, often where there are none. Or at least no easy ones.

It is worth reflecting on what Ardern said when she resigned. There has been much speculation about the timing and reasons behind her decision, but she could not have been clearer.

“I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also one of the more challenging. You cannot, and should not do it unless you have a full tank, plus, a bit in reserve,” she said.

“I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility – the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also when you are not. I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It is that simple.

She pre-empted a discussion about the reason she left.

“I can tell you, that what I am sharing today is it. The only interesting angle you will find is that after going on six years of some big challenges, that I am human. Politicians are human. We give all that we can, for as long as we can, and then it’s time.”

As we move forward with a new Prime Minister, it is worth reflecting on this. A leader, whether of a country, a local authority, or any organisation, is only one person. A person who has stood up to be its face and spokesperson, but a human being nonetheless. They are lightning rods for public opinion. They often go home at night tired and sometimes disillusioned. But the next day, they must carry on with energy and optimism. They must inspire and encourage, even when sometimes there is little cause to do so. Today, they must also do this in the unrelenting glare of social media.

Whatever our political persuasion, it’s worth remembering we are all human beings.

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