Many of the big life decisions I have made have been with the privilege of doing so in relative privacy. And while significant to me, they have not created any anxiety about the large-scale fallout or ramifications.
Last night’s announcement that Jacinda Arden was stepping down as Prime Minister of New Zealand was anything but private. I can’t begin to imagine the difficulty of making such a significant decision, knowing the global attention that would follow. Understanding all that she represents and the pressure attached to her leadership, this decision to step away from politics must have been agonizing.
I’ll admit her decision was difficult to hear and I genuinely feel global democracy has taken a hit. After steering her county through COVID, the Arden government was proving to be adept at making smart social and fiscal decisions. When I think of strong, compassionate and practical leaders, Jacinda has been a clear example that leadership and kindness go hand-in-hand. Even through her mistakes, she showed creativity and humility.
Locally, we had a similar announcement this week. And while it will not receive as much global attention, it will be another loss of strength, leadership and smarts in our political system. Laura Mae Lindo has been serving as the MPP for Kitchener Centre for 5 years and has made a real impact in her community and at Queen Park. I have had the pleasure of meeting her twice and was captivated by her smarts, enthusiasm and passion for justice. Laura Mae (who has her Ph.D. in education) will be leaving Queens Park this summer for a role at the University of Waterloo Philosophy department.
Their respective legislatures and the world will miss these two strong leaders. We need more Jacinda’s and Laura Mae’s: full stop. And, we must applaud their decision to make changes that (while many of us will grieve) will enable them to keep serving in the long term. In both cases, I think we are witnessing Service Leaders who are showing what courage and smart decision-making look like. I think (and truly hope) their decisions to leave public life will enable them to recharge, refocus and share their skills and talents elsewhere.
We owe a debt of gratitude to female leaders like Jacinda and Laura Mae who face exponentially more work, barriers and systemic challenges than men serving in similar roles. As a straight, white, male I cannot speak to their experiences nor do I have any specific insights into their respective decisions to move on from politics. What I do know is that the risks, threats and outright misogyny that they have risen above is a testament to their strength and a hard reminder of how much work the rest of us have to do. A single year of the disrespect, verbal abuse and sexism they put up with would seem like 20 years to a male in the same role. Their intelligence and growth mindset to move on their own terms puts most of their political colleagues (primarily male) to shame.
These strong female leaders are teaching us that thinking about what’s next — and taking the time to make sure we are mentally and physically ready for it — is an act of service. To ourselves. Many in similar roles (especially men) might choose to continue on under a false sense of self-importance and think that their physical and mental health sacrifice was true leadership. It’s not of course. All that ‘look at how much I am suffering for you’ is nothing but self-aggrandizing and in fact, is harming the systems and people they proclaimed to be serving. To say nothing of their own wellness.
The political world will shine a little less without the light and courage these two leaders gave our community and world. It is up to the rest of us to applaud their wisdom to move on to new roles that will allow them to recharge and serve in other ways. Equally important but much harder, we must find and encourage the next Jacinda and Laura Mae to step into their Service Leadership. Our collective future depends on it.