When I joined the Leadership and Cooperation Unit at the Folke Bernadotte Academy in August 2018, after working many years mainly in the private sector, I had a feeling that this job really would offer me an opportunity to use my skills and experiences to make a difference, and at the same time grow as a professional. FBA was at the time already working actively with leadership development support for leaders in key functions within the UN. These senior leadership positions means demanding jobs in very complex contexts, large responsibility and that you are the one that others turn to with their different needs and questions.
We believe development happens over time, so when FBA in 2017 had a first face-to-face workshop on self-leadership with Chiefs of Staff, a key function within UN Peace Operations, we saw this as the beginning of a journey. In 2019, we continued the journey with leadership development in terms of how to effectively lead teams, which was much appreciated. At this meeting the participants expressed a wish to meet more regularly to be able to exchange experiences and learn from each other. With them being scattered all over the world, it was a logical step to offer this space for interaction online.
So last year, FBA was approached by the UN, who asked if we could offer online support to the Chiefs of Staff, and if we could add an additional group of leaders, Chiefs of Mission Support. Leaders in these capacities are carrying a large responsibility coordinating Covid-19 related activities within the missions, on top of their regular work load. It was highly appreciated that we could offer a space for them exchange experiences.
We designed an online process consisting of two events where they could meet and interact. In between the events we offered peer support workshops for groups of maximum six persons. The aim was to make the participants feel strengthened in their roles as Chiefs of Staff and Chiefs of Mission Support by exchanging leadership experiences and learning from each other. In addition we wanted them to acquire knowledge about a few leadership tools useful when faced with challenges. We were emphasizing the exchange of experiences as we quickly learned that listening to each other offered them most value.
The original idea back in 2019, was to work online, so in a way the global pandemic of the past year actually did us a small favor. Since everyone was working remotely anyway, participants were open to explore interactive online ways to support each other. This helped us to design peer support workshops allowing participants to have an authentic and meaningful dialogue with professionals in similar roles.
We facilitated the conversation and exchange of thoughts on what was happening to them as leaders in this protracted crisis. We formulated questions to reflect upon individually and invited them to share their thoughts on topics as: How did you managed leadership challenges, such as prioritizing in the midst of an overwhelming amount of work due to Covid-19, without prior experience on how to handle this? How did you motivate yourself and managed to create conditions for others when there was no end in sight of this pandemic?
Working in small groups, with the same persons, made it possible for the participants to open up and share thoughts and ideas. We used different facilitation methods to explore challenges. We also accommodated different perspectives and alternative ways to look at challenges. Based on the type of conversations, we included relevant tools and models, as food for thought and further discussion. Some participants expressed that they enjoyed and felt comfortable with this format to talk and to be listened to. Meeting people who are facing similar challenges offers a great relief and a feeling of being less alone in their position.
We are currently more than half way through the process and at the final event in July we will gather all leaders for a broader exchange of experiences. The programme is part of FBA’s overall support to the UN in developing effective leadership and cooperation in peace operations and UN’s internal capacity to strengthen leadership development. Lessons learned are fed back to the system in an ongoing dialogue. So far supporting this group with leadership development has been very rewarding for me personally. I feel grateful for all the things I have learnt when I, together with a colleague, supported and facilitated these skilled and experienced leaders, humbly knowing that co-creating these spaces contributes in a positive way, and makes a difference for them.