Jacinda Ardern | Why not enough leaders know when it's time to resign

Why not enough leaders know when it's time to resign

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is stepping down from her premiership, admitting she has "no more in the tank" and has been suffering from burnout.

In a news conference on Thursday January 19, a tearful Ardern said it had been a tough five-and-a-half years as PM, and that she needed to step aside.

"I had hoped to find a way to prepare for not just another year, but another term - because that is what this year requires. I have not been able to do that," Ardern, 42, told a news conference.

Ardern won plaudits across the political spectrum for her handling of the COVID pandemic, which saw the country face some of the strictest measures globally but also resulted in one of the lowest death tolls.

But her popularity has waned over the past year as inflation has risen to nearly three-decade highs, the central bank has aggressively increased the cash rate and crime has risen.

The country has become increasingly politically divided over issues such as a government overhaul of water infrastructure, and the introduction of an agricultural emissions programme. Ardern and Labour have seen their opinion poll support suffer.

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She said she was not stepping down because the job was hard, but because she believed others could do it better.

It was this final point that struck a chord with Doug Baird, CEO at New Street Consulting Group, who praised Ardern’s willingness to accept she didn’t have the drive to keep going as New Zealand’s leader.

Baird explained: “In October 2020, Jacinda Ardern won a second term as the Prime Minister of New Zealand with a landslide number of votes. She has been widely praised as a good, authentic leader even if sometimes her policies have been divisive. Her human and emotional approach to leadership has made her style so noteworthy and she upheld that until her resignation.

“The truth is - not enough leaders recognise when the time is right to step down. It takes deep self-reflection and the ability to see the country, organisation, team or stakeholders would be better served by somebody else. Sometimes a leader simply doesn’t have the skills to drive an organisation forward on the next stage of its journey, and in other cases, they don’t have enough left in the tank.”

Indeed, recognising that it’s time to go is a trait that all too many prominent figures have failed to demonstrate in recent years.

Although it had seemed abundantly clear to the rest of the UK that it was time for Boris Johnson to step down as PM in 2022, he held on for dear life until it became clear to him that he had lost far too much support from his own party.

A similar drama played out with his successor Liz Truss who, despite only serving 44 days in Downing Street, is already regarded to have outstayed her welcome after a tumultuous start to her tenure, including a disastrous mini-budget that tanked the pound.

And former US President Trump, who to this day refuses to accept that he lost the 2020 election, spent weeks mounting legal challenges in a bid to prove that widespread voter fraud was behind his defeat, rather than the country telling him to move on.

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As Baird concluded: “Leaders need to continuously self-reflect because timing is everything as it allows for solid succession planning without impacting an otherwise positive legacy for a leader.”

This notion of leaving a positive legacy was shared by Mary Portas, Chief Creative Officer at Portas and co-chair of the Better Business Act.

In a post on LinkedIn, Portas wrote: “Jacinda, I salute you. For the humility to know when enough is enough, the vulnerability to admit it on a world stage, the bravery to find a new path instead of clinging on to status and power.”

She added: “When asked how she wanted to be remembered, Jacinda replied: 'As someone who always tried to be kind.'

“Bravo Jacinda. We need more women like you. The world needs more women like you.”

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