Leadership in the Face of Terror

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I’m not here to stand on my soapbox about the mass shooting in Christchurch. The horrific nature of what these individuals did, and the weariness of repeating the cycle of post-shooting events, is enough to put you into a deep depression about the way the world is going.

However, if there has been one bright spot in these incredibly dark days, it has been the confident and powerful response of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Already renowned for being the second world leader to give birth while in office, Ardern’s response to the shooting has been hope-inspiring, and a model for leaders of all kinds to follow during times of crisis.

While what we are talking about here is a global crisis of the worst degree, it’s important to remember that these aspects of leadership response to crisis apply to leaders of all kinds, in all types of organizations.

Composure: As one of the world’s most peaceful countries, New Zealand is often seen as a beacon for safety in an increasingly dangerous and divided world. It’s easy to think that Prime Minister Ardern would have never imagined that her term would include being at the centre of such internationally relevant events. This accentuates the immense composure that she has shown throughout the aftermath, portraying class and strength at every public moment.

While many people see the public outbursts of sports coaches, or the power-through-retaliation of other world leaders under crisis, Ardern’s composure has shown how great leadership can display strength without inflaming a situation.

Compassion: Whatever you want to classify these attacks as, hatred for difference must be mentioned. An alternate timeline, with a less graceful response from Ardern, could have easily let to further alienation of New Zealand’s Muslim community. Instead, she showed compassion towards the Islamic faith, showing up in a hijab to the funerals and prayer services that followed.

That one simple gesture became an inspiration to many women in New Zealand, who followed suit and wore hijabs as a sign of everyone, regardless of faith, coming together in support for the Muslim community.

Immediacy: Ardern’s response was also categorized by its stunning immediacy, and the efficiency with which she moved to prevent any future mass shootings. Just days after the attack, she moved to ban semi-automatics and assault rifles, with great conviction and assertiveness.

This showed forethought in a time when many gun-control opponents often try to redirect the conversation from guns to mental health, and a respect for what is really the ultimate purpose of a leader: keeping the people safe.

Most business leaders will never have to respond to a crisis that involves national security, firearms legislation, and global media coverage. However, we can all take a page out of Jacinda Ardern’s book when it comes to her demeanour during the crisis, and the composure, compassion, and immediacy with which she handled it.

The next time you find yourself in charge of the response to a workplace crisis, reflect on Jacinda Ardern’s response, and the importance of composure, compassion and immediacy.