By Anne Salmond

Change is in the air. Some have called it "Jacindamania" but I'd guess it runs deeper than that - a sign of a seismic shift in the national psyche.

After 33 years of neoliberal doctrine and three terms of a National government, many New Zealanders are weary of old dogmas, and looking for new ideals to live by.

A young, smart generation is stepping up - Marnie Prickett and Lan Pham in the national debates over freshwater, or Max Harris with his book The New Zealand Project, for instance; David Hall and his Policy Observatory website; or Dan Hikuroa on our relations with the ocean, among others.

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These millennials are astute and free-thinking, with a refreshing optimism and generosity of spirit. Jacinda Ardern is one of this new breed of Kiwis. They make the neo-liberal die-hards seem moribund, stuck in an ideological morass.

As for the baby-boomers, my own generation, I think that many are experiencing a change of heart about the country's direction. The politics of greed has harmed their own children and grandchildren, many of whom find it difficult to start a family, to get a secure job or afford a home of their own.

The mindless pursuit of short-term profit has not just poisoned waterways across New Zealand. It's been toxic for communities as well. Radical inequalities between rich and poor threaten cherished values of democratic liberty, decency and a "fair go".

New Zealanders of all political persuasions find it difficult to believe in a "rock-star economy" in which increasing numbers of people live in cars or on the streets, where children go to school hungry or die from third-world diseases. It's hard to feel proud of a country with the highest rate of youth suicide in the developed world.

Likewise, corporate, top-down modes of governance have bred a complacent arrogance among many New Zealand politicians, who forget that they are there to serve the people, not the other way around.

If there's been a sigh of relief in many Kiwi households, it's because there is little of this kind of cynicism about Jacinda Ardern, along with others of her generation.

This is not a cult of personality, or "lipstick on a pig". As well as policies, leadership really matters. It galvanises like-minded people, transforming institutions and opening up new futures, for better or for worse.

Voters are right to look for leaders they can trust, and whose values ring true.

• Dame Anne Salmond was the 2013 New Zealander of the Year.