Political leadership of former Prime Ministers

As Aotearoa settles in with a new government and Prime Minister, this week’s blog reflects on Prime Ministerial leadership of the past.

Photo credit : WNZ_Parliament_2022_Credit WellingtonNZ8 

Leading both a political party and a country requires certain skillsets and strengths, the same as with any business.   Our past Prime Ministers have each brought their own unique take to the role and have each had to rise to face particular challenges.

While it is too soon for any analysis regarding Christopher Luxon, and Chris Hipkins tenure has not yet produced any publications,  the term of New Zealand’s 40th Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, produced numerous books giving consideration to her leadership style.

John Key’s leadership during his three year term as Prime Minister is written about by John Roughan while former Cabinet Minister, Chris Finlayson provides further insight into the workings of the Key led government of the times.

Further back the leadership of New Zealand’s first elected female Prime Minister, Helen Clark, is discussed along with her term leading the United Nations Development Programme.

We’ve included Denis Welch’s recent examination of Norman Kirk’s brief term in office and round out the blog with some collective works by political commentators interviewing or examining the leadership of a number of former Prime Ministers.

Jacinda Ardern : The Story of an Extraordinary Leader / Duff, Michelle
“In-depth analysis of Jacinda Ardern’s extraordinary leadership as Prime Minister of New Zealand.” (Catalogue)
NB: This is a revised edition of the title listed below



Jacinda Ardern : the story behind an extraordinary leader / Duff, Michelle
“Michelle Duff delves into Ardern’s beginnings in small-town New Zealand, discovering a nose-ringed teen fighting for equality and her own identity in a devout Mormon family. Duff tracks Ardern’s political career from being dismissed as a ‘show pony’ to her compassion during one of New Zealand’s biggest tragedies, the Christchurch mosque terror attack of 2019. In its aftermath, Ardern has become a global icon for her strength and decisiveness while uniting a country in shock and mourning. Ardern attracted international headlines for being the second world leader to give birth while in office. But why was having a baby so meaningful, and what does it say about the continued struggle for gender equality? Has Ardern really been a transcendent leader, and what enduring mark might she leave on the political landscape? This is an engrossing and powerful exploration of one of the most intriguing political stories of our time-telling us as much about one young woman’s ascendancy as it does about the country that elected her”– Publisher description.” (Catalogue)  Also available as EBook Libby

Jacinda Ardern : a new kind of leader / Chapman, Madeleine
“New Zealand’s prime minister has been hailed as a leader for a new generation, tired of inaction in the face of issues such as climate change and far-right terrorism. Her grace and compassion following the Christchurch mosque shooting captured the world’s attention. Oprah Winfrey invited us to ‘channel our inner Jacindas’ as praise for Ardern flooded headlines and social media. The ruler of this remote country even made the cover of Time. In this revealing biography, journalist Madeleine Chapman discovers the woman behind the headlines. Always politically engaged and passionate, Ardern is uncompromising and astute. She has encountered her fair share of sexism, but rather than let that harden her, she advocates ‘rising above’ disparagers. In her first press conference, she announced an election campaign of ‘relentless positivity’. The tactic was a resounding success: donations poured in and Labour rebounded in the polls. But has Ardern lived up to her promise? What political concessions has she had to make? And beyond the hype, what does her new style of leadership look like in practice?” (Catalogue)  Also available in Large print format and EBook Libby

Jacinda Ardern : leading with empathy / Vani, Supriya
“Jacinda Ardern was swept into office in 2017, with a wave of popular adulation dubbed ‘Jacindamania’. Her victory seemed heroic: in less than three months, she rose from deputy leader of the opposition, to the highest office in her nation. Few in politics would have believed it possible; fewer still would have guessed at her resolve and compassionate leadership, which, in the wake of the horrific Christchurch mosque shootings of March 2019 and the struggles of the COVID-19 pandemic, brought her international acclaim and a second term. Jacinda Ardern: Leading with Empathy carefully explores the influences – personal, social, political and emotional – that have shaped Ardern. Acclaimed peace activist and journalist Supriya Vani builds her narrative through personal interviews with Ardern, as well as the prime minister’s public statements and speeches and the words of those who know her. We visit the places, meet the people and understand the events that propelled the daughter of a small-town Mormon policeman into a committed social democrat, a passionate Labour Party politician, and a model modern leader.”–Publisher’s description.” (Catalogue)  Also available as EBook Libby

The most powerful woman in the world : how Jacinda Ardern exemplifies progressive leadership / Chapman, Madeleine
“The fascinating story of an international icon – one of the world’s most inspiring, progressive leaders. Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern is a leader for a new generation, one tired of inertia in the face of pressing issues such as climate change, immigration and the rise of far-right terrorism. Ardern was catapulted onto the international stage with her grace and compassion following the Christchurch mosque shooting. Oprah Winfrey invited us to ‘channel our inner Jacindas’ as praise for Ardern flooded headlines and social media. The world’s youngest female head of government, and only the second elected world leader to give birth while in office, Ardern describes herself as a progressive and a social democrat. In this revealing biography, journalist Madeleine Chapman discovers the woman behind the headlines. Politically engaged from an early age, Ardern has encountered her fair share of sexism, but rather than let that harden her she advocates ‘rising above’ critics. In her first press conference, she announced an election campaign of ‘relentless positivity’. The tactic was a resounding success: donations poured in and Labour rebounded in the polls. But can Ardern live up to her promise? What does her new style of leadership look like in practice? And what can we learn from the world’s reaction to this inspiring leader?” (Catalogue)

John Key : portrait of a Prime Minister / Roughan, John
“Arguably New Zealand’s most popular Prime Minister in modern times, John Key shocked many with his decision to step down from office less than a year out from an election. Rather than seeking an historic fourth term, Key instead opted to quit while his approval rating was as high as ever in the polls. In this updated edition of the bestselling 2014 book, journalist John Roughan speaks with Key about his eight years leading the country and the motivation to turn his back on Parliament while he was still enjoying unprecedented public support. This lively portrait offers insights into Key’s early life, personality and motivations. Roughan examines how the twin ambitions of a boy in a state house, ‘to make a million dollars and be Prime Minister’, were realised beyond his dreams, and how Key’s instincts as a currency trader informed his approach to politics – and ultimately his decision to step down”–Publisher information.” (Catalogue)

Yes, Minister : Christopher Finlayson, Attorney-General, 2008-2017 / Finlayson, Christopher
“An insightful, revealing and entertaining glimpse into what really made the John Key government one of the most successful conservative governments in New Zealand.” (Catalogue)  Also available as EBook Libby and in Large Print format



Helen : portrait of a Prime Minister / Edwards, Brian
“New Zealand’s first woman Prime Minister remains an enigma to many, despite her almost daily exposure on television. In this biography, the author has produced a comprehensive and absorbing account of the life, times and character of the real Helen Clark.” (Catalogue)



Women, equality, power : selected speeches from a life of leadership / Clark, Helen
“A celebration of an outstanding leader who continues to strive and work for change, and it’s a rallying call for other women leaders, whether they are in positions of political, economic or social power. Helen Clark has been a political leader for more than 40 years, since first running in local elections in the 1970s. She entered parliament as a 31-year-old in 1981, led the Labour Party to victory in 1999 and was Prime Minister of New Zealand for nine years. She then took on a critical international role as Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in New York. One of her key focuses throughout this time has been the empowerment of women and she has paved the way for other women to step up and lead. With a foreword by the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, this is a timely and important book.” (Catalogue)  Also available as EBook Libby

At the UN : addresses from Helen Clark’s first term leading the United Nations Development Programme / Clark, Helen
“A selection of speeches – given to a variety of international audiences which cover a broad range of topics – areas which all fall within the major role and responsibility of the Administrator of the UN Development Programme – Helen Clark, who is now beginning a second four year term in New York. The addresses cover, among other topics and with a global perspective: global leadership for development, disaster risk reduction, governance, energy matters, why peace matters, famine, global finances, cyberspace, human development and international justice, local government roles, democratic transitions, climate change and developing nations, empowerment and resilience”–Publisher information.” (Catalogue)

The 9th floor : conversations with five New Zealand prime ministers / Espiner, Guyon
“Based on the acclaimed RNZ podcast series, and including new material, The 9th Floor by journalists Guyon Espiner and Tim Watkin presents in-depth interviews with five former Prime Ministers of New Zealand. Geoffrey Palmer, Mike Moore, Jim Bolger, Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark reflect on their time occupying the prime ministerial offices on the 9th floor of the Beehive. Their recollections amount to a fascinating record of the decisions that shaped modern New Zealand.” (Catalogue)  Also available as EBook BWB

New Zealand’s prime ministers : from Dick Seddon to John Key / Bassett, Michael
“Collective biographies have been written for Britain’s and Australia’s Prime Ministers, and for America’s Presidents. Until now New Zealand has had no comparable overview. Based on extensive, careful archival research, interviews with recent Prime Ministers, many of their colleagues, and with their opponents, this major work is the product of decades of appreciative and insightful observation. It is essential reading for anyone interested in New Zealand politics.” (Catalogue)

We need to talk about Norman : New Zealand’s lost leader / Welch, Denis
“Norman Kirk was Prime Minister for only 90 weeks but in the early 1970s he inspired us by leading a visionary government with a clear moral purpose. When he died, we lost the man and many believe we lost our way. This book examines the promise of Kirk’s leadership and the social contract that is central to a liberal democratic society.”– Provided by publisher.” (Catalogue)

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