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New Forms of Leadership: A candid discussion on leading change

An Executive Conversation with Dr Bill Pasmore, Senior VP at the Center for Creative Leadership

In association with:
Center for Creative Leadership



The GCSP-Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) Alliance for Advancing Leadership in Peace and Security held its first ever Executive Conversation.

The event was attended by  representatives of international organisations in Geneva, including several ambassadors to the United Nations Office in Geneva, and senior members from organisations including CAUX-Initiatives of Change Foundation, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDR), the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Food Programme (WFP), the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs (FDFA), and more.

The discussion was framed by the alliance mission to advance leadership in peace and security and focused on leading change. Two guest discussants were invited: Dr Bill Pasmore, a professor at Columbia University and Senior Vice President at CCL, and Ms Jane Connors, former Director of the Research and Right to Development Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Ambassador Christian Dussey and Co-Directors of the Leadership Alliance, Dr Patrick Sweet and Mr Peter Cunningham welcomed participants and guest speakers, who led presentations and discussions on leading change in international humanitarian organisations. Highlights of the conversations included:

  • Employees of such organisations are mission-oriented. This sets a higher challenge for leadership. Motivation is more easily engaged while collaboration skills and practices can ‘kill’ this motivation rather quickly and perhaps often does.
  • Top-down change efforts often fail. This is in large part due to a lack of understanding and engagement of middle tiers of these organisations, and the lack of true leader capability often found in appointed positions at the tops of these organisations.
  • Cooperation across organisations is a great challenge, even more so than internal co-operative efforts.
  • Information and other ‘systems’ tend to set rules and routines that are often counter-influential to innovation and change. One should ensure that systems and routines are reviewed as part of leading change.
  • The need for change and more effective collaboration is clear.

In summary, leading change should be seen as continuous, perhaps led mostly from the middle outwards, rather than from the top-down or bottom-up. Developing leadership capacity at all levels is key, and perhaps we should focus more on what leaders do than conceptualising what leadership is. As one speaker put it: “if you unpack leadership development from who receives it, and view leading more as a shared capability among all to different degrees, you begin to understand how to actually impact this capability for the entire system.”

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