Leading in a (True) Crisis

Leading in a (True) CrisisPosted by Neil Neveras on November 14, 2012

It’s easy to get caught up in the latest “crisis du jour” at work and sometimes it can seem that all you do as a leader is put out fires. But the idea of leading in a crisis took on a whole new meaning recently when I had the opportunity to facilitate the United Nations OCHA and Deloitte Leadership Summit for Humanitarian Coordinators, a collaboration between the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL) and Deloitte LLP (Deloitte).

Humanitarian Coordinators are the UN’s senior-most officials in countries experiencing humanitarian emergencies—famine, natural disasters, political upheaval. They are charged with coordinating life-saving assistance to people in need and leading the humanitarian community’s work in a timely, effective and efficient manner. How quickly they act, the effectiveness of their decisions and their ability to rally and inspire the support of others can mean the difference between life and death for the people and communities in crisis.

The summit was borne from discussions between UN OCHA and the Deloitte network on how the network could have the greatest impact on the humanitarian sector. Leadership—particularly crisis leadership—was prioritized as most important. In response, a team of leadership consulting professionals from the Deloitte member firms in the U.S., Australia and Canada, along with business psychologists from Kaisen Consulting, collaborated to design a three-day Leadership Summit, drawing on demonstrated psychological research about how senior leaders learn. Twenty-four Humanitarian Coordinators from 22 countries participated, coming to Deloitte University in Texas from as far away as Cambodia, Indonesia, Jordan, Somalia and South Sudan.

The summit was designed around the unique challenges humanitarian leaders face in the field—something delegates were intimately familiar with, considering their near 500 years of combined humanitarian leadership experience. The program focused on three key leadership skills—strategic direction, influencing and inspiring others. These are the skills most often needed by senior private sector leaders and participants agreed that the same applied to the humanitarian sector. Participants learned from one another’s experiences in the field and challenged their thinking about their roles and skills as humanitarian leaders. Coaching, skill-building, peer interaction and critiques and provocative discussions and debate were all part of the experience.

It was a rare opportunity to observe a different sort of leader and leadership than what I usually encounter—but yet it was familiar and typical at the same time. What it takes to be a strong, effective leader is surprisingly universal, even when the circumstances and settings vary greatly. And like leaders everywhere, the summit delegates valued the opportunity to disconnect, reflect, learn and network. Those of us from Deloitte benefitted, too. Being able to step outside the realm of day-to-day business and apply our leadership skills and knowledge to a potentially life-saving humanitarian purpose was both inspiring and humbling.

Neil Nveras Neil Neveras helps clients solve their most complex leadership challenges, including defining leadership capabilities to drive business priorities, succession/pipeline planning, leadership assessment, development planning, career path, coaching/mentoring, using social networking to link leaders and global assignments/mobility for development and metrics.

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