“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” – Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela’s call resonates intensely with leaders of public sector and international organisations. I know first-hand that Jim Kim, Christiana Figueres, Margaret Chan, Anthony Fauci, Seth Berkeley, Peter Maurer, Elhadj As Sy and Joanne Liu live by this principle. Friends of Babatunde Osotimehin, Antonio Guterres, Filippo Grandi and other agencies leaders concur this is their paradigm too. This is also the driving force behind many younger professionals in these institutions who will be future leaders.
How do we nurture and grow the ability of the public, non-profit and international organizations leaders and future leaders to drive effective change?
Yet, how do we nurture and grow the ability of the public, non-profit and international organizations leaders and future leaders to drive effective change? These sectors have traditionally lagged far behind the private sector in developing talent and nurturing leadership. Training budgets are tight. True leadership development plans are rare. Supporting platforms are few. I know this first-hand too. Yet the need for enhanced talent management in these sectors is even more acute as they face seismic shifts
This question is all the more pressing that each of these institutions is experiencing environmental transformations challenging their prospects of future impact. Their chiefs may not all agree to summarize their core challenges neatly into a common set of four forces colliding and transforming their environment, as did the directors of the McKinsey Global Institute a few months ago in “No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Forces Breaking all the Trends”. But no doubt that urbanization, technology, demographics and globalization feature as common challenges, and opportunities.
This pressing issue is often left to human resources professionals rather than addressed by senior management as an underpinning strategic challenge. Leadership development activities in these sectors have centered on specialized knowledge development or on moving from industrial era leadership styles of “command and control” to new models for the knowledge era, with more empowered teams and new forms of influence. That is today's but not tomorrow leadership challenge; nurturing efficient leaders for tomorrow will require more.
Time may have come to decry complacency in adapting international public and nonprofit institutions to the rapidly changing environment they face.
The foremost concern is that these changes are happening at the same time – very fast – and on a huge scale. A former mentor, Professor Joshua Lederberg, Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work in bacterial genetics and a powerful public intellectual who crossed the divisions between science, society, and politics, used to decry complacency in the never-ending contest between man and fast evolving microbe. Time may have come to decry complacency in adapting international public and nonprofit institutions to the rapidly changing environment they face.
Leadership development efforts need a new impulse. Complex problems require new leadership approaches. Executive teams need to tackle head-on the implications of the compounded and accelerated trends affecting their institutions. These trends will hinder their ability to deliver in the future or provide opportunities to leapfrog and transform the playing field. Talent management strategies should focus not only on enabling leaders to empower their employees and ensure accountability for results, but also to understand the strategic shifts and to constantly drive adaptive change. Rare few of us can claim having been able to change the culture of an organization, yet this is often what is now called for.
Do we have the right platforms to nurture effective leadership for the new century? Few platforms support senior executives and emerging leaders of international organisations in this direction. There are excellent initiatives in the private sector, which long understood the need for investments in leadership development, but most of these platforms are not immediately valuable to other sectors. The formula inevitably needs to also help bridge sectors, disciplines, cultures and genders, as science shows diversity makes us smarter.
A new initiative worthy of attention was announced this week, in Geneva where a unique concentration of international organizations, government representations, NGOs and academia are present. Focused on promoting peace, security and international cooperation through executive education and training, applied policy analysis and dialogue, the Geneva Center for Security Policy, led by a dynamic diplomat, Ambassador Christian Dussey, is partnering with John Ryan and the US based Center for Creative Leadership (ranked by Financial Times among the top 5 in executive education worldwide) in an alliance to give international professionals the leadership skills to meet 21st century challenges. This seems to be a promising new platform worth engaging with.
No single platform will be the answer, however promising, so may this note elicit your suggestions and ideas for strengthening, nurturing and transforming leadership of international organisations.
Because we must deliver the Sustainable Development Goals and forcefully address the climate challenge, we need effective leaders to get us there. They need our nurturing.