What kind of leader do you want to be, Ardern or Trump?

- November 26, 2020 3 MIN READ

Emotionally intelligent leaders are coming into their own during the pandemic, not only in the business world but also on the global stage, writes Kirk Peterson, Founder and Managing Director of Performance Shift.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern excels at Emotional Intelligence (EI) and her country has benefited from it during the pandemic. Her empathy, humility, and her ability to connect and communicate with her country throughout the pandemic has been held up as a shining example of what’s possible when leaders have strong self-awareness and self-management.

Conversely, Donald Trump’s lack of EI can be summed up by his infamous comment about the COVID death toll in the US – “it is what it is” – and his continual downplaying of the virus’ effects on the American people. 250,000 Americans are now dead, “it is what it is” could be the worst thing to say to a mourning population.

So, who do you want to be, Ardern or Trump?

There’s plenty that business leaders can learn from Trump and Ardern on how (or how not as the case may be) to build and nurture high-performing teams using EI.

First, build trust

Firstly, the scale and impact of COVID has been so widely and profoundly felt, that a leader must have the ability to recognise their own emotions and those of their team in times of disruption and uncertainty. Reading behavioural cues from people, listening carefully and responding appropriately enables you to act with empathy and builds trust.

Be self-aware

Secondly, self-awareness is key. It means you are conscious of your feelings and moods and their effect on your performance and their effect on others. The majority of people believe they are self-aware when asked, but according to researchers only 10-15 per cent of people actually, fully fit the criteria. Measuring your self-awareness as a manager can be confronting and we suggest using a model that can help to increase self-awareness by asking your team.

This shows what we call vulnerable leadership and uses the “A LATTE” model. 

1. Ask

2. Listen

3. Ask for clarity

4 Thank them.

5. Think of a plan.

6. Execute.

Getting external feedback is critical for leaders to increase self-awareness.

It’s also crucial to use self-management: the ability of a leader to regulate their behaviour and feelings, to take initiative and to follow through on promises and commitments. How have you behaved during COVID? Have you led by example and remained calm and reassuring, when times have become difficult? To improve your self-management, try using these four steps

  1. Cultivate and display strong motivation and desire.
  2. Practise the new behaviours created from feedback from your team.
  3. Receive feedback live on the new behaviours.
  4. Note that there is no quick fix, this is to be done over time.

Lead with empathy

Lastly, if you want to be more like Ardern and less like Trump you need empathy.

More than ever in these difficult times, the ability to understand and read the emotional temperature of your team is crucial. How is your team reacting on an emotional level to the changes in their working environment brought about by COVID?

Have you adjusted your management style to deal with tricky and delicate issues that might be impacting your staff?  What type of language are you using to communicate with your teams and is it appropriate for the circumstance? One way to test the mood and temperature of your team is to use a  ‘check-in’ gauge at the beginning of each meeting, this could simply be each team member checking in on a 1-10 scale of how they are doing.  The hallmark of a manager with high empathy is their ability to use the appropriate management style to suit every situation, not adapting to suit each person.


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