Doing the right thing is seldom easy, but doing the right thing is always the right thing.

Political and business leaders face hard decisions and sometimes they will get it wrong - that’s okay. We are human after all and we will all make mistakes – the imperative is not to make the same mistake twice.

After the tragedy of the slaughter of 26 innocent children and adults in Connecticut in 2012 there was a firestorm of controversy which revived the gun control debate in America. President Obama decided that it was time for him to do something even if it was not popular. He said, “We need to do the right thing” even though many in his own party didn’t agree with him. It was a risk to challenge the status quo by taking an unpopular position, but that is leadership.

In the UK our government’s approval rating continues to plummet. Some of this will be down to their handling of Coronavirus and Brexit negotiations (or lack of). The pandemic may be the largest test of political leadership the world has ever seen and every leader is reacting differently, in his or her own style and will be judged by the results.

Jacinda Ardern’s stands out as her leadership style is one of empathy. Her messages are clear, consistent, and somehow simultaneously sobering and soothing - and her approach isn’t just resonating with her people on an emotional level. It is also working remarkably well.

There’s a high level of trust and confidence in her because of that empathy. She doesn’t peddle misinformation; she doesn’t shift blame; she tries to manage everyone’s expectations at the same time as she offers reassurance.

“To me, leadership is not about necessarily being the loudest in the room, but instead being the bridge, or the thing that is missing in the discussion and trying to build a consensus from there…I’m very proudly an empathetic and compassionate leader. I am trying to chart a different path, and that will attract criticism but I can only be true to myself and the form of leadership I believe in.”

Jacinda Ardern

The success, of course, isn’t all Ardern’s doing; it’s also the product of an impressive collective effort by public-health institutions, opposition politicians, and New Zealanders as a whole, who have largely abided by social-distancing restrictions.

Often leaders must make the choice between popularity and to stand for what you believe in - and this is as true in business as it is in politics. Leaders are constantly faced with making tough decisions, but the hallmark of a good leader versus a great leader is courage. Doing the right thing may be as simple as challenging a naysayer, or as daunting as confronting your shareholders on behalf of your employees, customers or the public or fighting for an idea you think matters even if it’s not popular.

I recently turned down a search assignment because I was able to help my client see how to fix a problem without me. In the short term, I lost a large fee, but now and for the long term I have gained immeasurably more in trust.

Ethical leadership is a 'management style' that works everywhere for everyone, in any organisation. Leadership with integrity drives organisational success in some really powerful ways: attracting top talent, keeping people engaged, increasing job satisfaction, improving productivity and profitability, but is, in and of itself, the right thing to do.

Lorri Lowe
Partner UK

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