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Jacinda Ardern's compassionate leadership: a case of social change leadership in action

Montgomery Van Wart (CSUSB, Riverside, California, USA)
Michael Macaulay (Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)
Katie Haberstroh (California State University San Bernardino, San Bernardino, California, USA)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 23 June 2022

Issue publication date: 11 August 2022




This article investigates the leadership style of Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of Aotearoa New Zealand. It uses the model of Social Change Leadership (SCL) to evaluate her approach to leadership as well as some notable successes and failures of her premiership.


The article adopts a grounded theory approach in which five increasingly refined research iterations were conducted to detect and articulate patterns of significance (Strauss and Corbin, 1997). Ultimately, the team selected 19 leadership examples to be cross referenced with the SCL model.


The article finds that in terms of leadership style Ardern corresponds closely to the SCL framework. The 19 examples show clusters of behavior that clearly denote a SCL constellation in terms of her approach. It also finds, however, that in terms of performance goals there is a less clear picture with less coherence to the framework. These findings in turn point to an interesting potential tension in the SCL model that has hitherto not been acknowledged.


The article is the first of its kind to apply SCL to a major global political leader. It is the first structured, academic assessment of Ardern's leadership. It adds a theoretical contribution to ongoing discussions on the efficacy and utility of the SCL framework.



We wish to provide special thanks to Hector Ramirez for his assistance.


Van Wart, M., Macaulay, M. and Haberstroh, K. (2022), "Jacinda Ardern's compassionate leadership: a case of social change leadership in action", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 35 No. 6, pp. 641-658.



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