Business has embraced humanity and relatability in leadership, why can’t politics?

Humanity, empathy and relatability are key qualities for galvanising and supporting employees through challenging times

Emily Rule

Head of Strategy Wunderman Thompson UK


Business leadership has gone through a long-needed reckoning in recent years. The pandemic, which will never be a time we fondly reminisce about, did put the spotlight on the importance of humanity, empathy and relatability as key qualities for galvanising and supporting employees through challenging teams.

As employees, we look for authenticity and connection, as signals of honesty and vision in the businesses we work for and the leaders we follow. And that is why relatability is seen as a key component of leaders today. A relatable leader inspires and connects with others. Especially in times of uncertainty.

Unfortunately, expectations of leadership in the political world have not faced the same reckoning. The recent controversy surrounding Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin shows that humanity and relatability are leadership qualities that are not tolerated in the political world, never mind celebrated.

A relatable leader inspires and connects with others. Especially in times of uncertainty

Emily Rule, Head of Strategy, Wunderman Thompson

Marin has had to apologise after a photograph of two topless women taken at a party at her official residence was published on social media. This follows a video of her drinking and dancing during another private party making headlines around the world.

As a woman in leadership, and a young woman at that, Marin is clearly being held to an entirely different set of standards than the older men that dominate politics. She is censured for simply having fun at home with friends. She has even had to undergo a drugs test at the demand of the country’s opposition leader.

Although we believe that the attacks on her are deeply rooted in sexism, they also show us how out-of-touch and unwelcoming the political sphere has become with and towards the next generation. What young person would want to enter a career where having fun with friends in your own personal time gets you hauled over the coals? Most millennials and Gen Zers have their lives documented on social media, so it’s hard to imagine many of them putting themselves in the position where their social identity might be used against them for political point scoring. 

The humanity and relatability being displayed by leaders such as Sanna Marin and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, whose decision to take her baby to work a few years back sent a powerful and highly relatable message about women in leadership, should be celebrated. Instead, they are met with ignorance and judgement.

The result is that we risk losing out on a new generation of political leaders, in particular female leaders, as fewer young people will feel “fit” to endure the unfair standards, and cruel critics that go hand in hand with politics. Moreover, democracy itself is under threat as the electorate become disengaged and starts to switch off in their droves.

A 2020 report shows young people have lost faith in the political system in the UK. Also, the electorate in the UK do not feel represented by politicians. In the same report, when asked how well they believed “politicians understood the lives of people like you”, a total of 78% of voting adults said ‘badly’.

Until the political world elevates the need for empathy, embraces relatability and shows some humanity, which are proven to be the most powerful qualities in leadership today, politicians and the electorate they purport to represent will drift even further apart.

Let’s all raise a glass to Sanna Marin, and the future she represents.

Guest Author

Emily Rule

Head of Strategy Wunderman Thompson UK


Emily began her advertising career at Mullen Lowe in Cape Town. This is where her passion for creativity and strategic imagination was born. She was privileged enough to write a case study paper for the Organ Donor Foundation of South African, that won an effectiveness grand prix, and then was promoted to head of strategy, and helped to earn the agency the title of most effective creative agency in South Africa.  Emily moved over to New York in 2017 to work for mcgarrybowen as a strategy director working on JCPenny, Burt’s Bees, and Verizon. She then joined another smaller IPG agency in New York called EP+Co in 2018 as a VP strategy director on TUMI, The Men’s Wearhouse, PUMA, and Morgan Stanley – on which she worked closely with the CMO to elevate the bank’s sustainability agenda through marketing.   And most recently, before joining Wunderman Thompson London as Head of Planning, and lead planner on HSBC, she spent 2 years at BBH London, as the strategic lead working to drive up the ROI of Weetabix comms, helping to prepare Audi for a new era of electric mobility, and launching a new global platform for Mentos.

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