This Is What Strong Leadership Looks Like

newzealand-landscape This Is What Strong Leadership Looks Like

“One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.”  — Simone de Beauvoir

In my time in Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics World Games, I was struck by a few things.

1) How vast the world is and how small we all are in it;

2) How diverse the world is and how little we know about each other’s cultures, religions and customs;

3) How similar we actually are, regardless of the color of our skin or the God to whom we pray; and,

4) How much we all need inspiration and examples of courage and dignity in our lives.

These things have the power to lift us all up. They should give us hope that we can find common ground and that we are each capable of being the inspiration that we seek.

Speaking of inspiration and making our world a better place, I was also struck this week by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s powerful display of strong and compassionate leadership.

I was so moved as I watched her hug the family members of the Christchurch victims. She held these grieving families in her arms, while simultaneously speaking out strongly against gun violence and steadfastly refusing to utter the terrorist’s name. I just love that she said, “Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety but we, in New Zealand, will give him nothing–not even his name.”

That is what strong leadership looks like. It’s compassionate. It’s loving. It’s in the moment. It’s humane. It’s steadfast. It’s powerful. I love that all these qualities were displayed by this woman. She led her country forward at a terrible moment and, in doing so, she has shown the world how it can and should be done.

I think this is an important moment, especially for those who have doubted a woman’s ability to lead a country during a crisis. I’ve often heard things like, “A woman wouldn’t be strong enough. She wouldn’t appear strong enough. A woman wouldn’t make you feel safe and/or protected.”

Prime Minister Ardern put all those concerns to rest, in my mind. She showed the world how to grieve, how to show up for those who are grieving, and how to show up for those who need direction and hope. She also showed us that, under strong leadership, a country can act swiftly and decisively.

Examples of strength under pressure—elegant, compassionate, loving strength—were all around me at the Special Olympics World Games.

I saw courage and strength in the faces of the determined athletes, their coaches and their parents. I saw courage and strength on the faces of the New Zealand Special Olympics athletes, who gathered to stand beside us at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi just days after the shooting. These athletes were far away from home, yet here, they felt held and loved by their Special Olympics family and their United Arab Emirates hosts. Never underestimate how powerful it is to be held during grief, even if you are a world away from home.

Yes, the world is vast, but it’s also so small. And yet, even still, we are each capable of moving the world forward with our humanity.

So as we move forward, may we all take a page from Prime Minister Ardern and lead with love, gentleness, compassion and strength. May we each condemn and reject violence like she did and may we not utter the names of those who cause violence with their deeds and their words.

So many people are trying to gain notoriety by doing unspeakable things and acting in unspeakable ways. Let’s not speak their names. Let’s not give them the notoriety they so desperately desire.

Let’s starve these people of what they desire. Let’s spend the precious time we have here speaking the names of those who are trying to make our world better, not talking about those who are cowards and who bully, demean or create acts of violence.

It’s a big world out there, but each of us can break through if we rise above and behave in an elegant, compassionate and strong manner. That’s what moving humanity forward looks like. And, moving humanity forward is what breaks through, even if you are a world away.


Dear God, please help me to always show love and compassion to those around me. In today’s world, what we need most are love, compassion, gentleness and strength—from ourselves and from others. Amen.

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