We have all heard the notion that leadership starts at the top with senior leaders. While it is important for senior leaders to champion and embrace organizational strategy, the UN System Leadership Framework (UNSLF) emphasizes that leadership occurs in many contexts, and at all levels. One of these levels comprises of mid-level managers who play important roles in implementing and executing organizational strategies and change.

Pivotal to their success is leadership development, yet many organizations often overlook it. 

I sat down with UNSSC’s Aida Ghazaryan, for the UN Emerging Leaders Experience (UNELE) spotlight interview series to reflect on the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) leadership development strategy, the systematic development of mid-level managers through programmes like UNELE, and the programme’s contribution empowering our mid-level managers to continually evolve to meet the organization’s needs.

Building a Leadership Development Strategy

In 2018 IOM took a step towards the collective leadership envisioned in the UNSLF, by sending its mid-level managers to the United Nations Staff College (UNSSC) for the UN Emerging Leaders Experience programme (UNELE). Our belief that leadership should be part of IOM’s DNA at the individual and collective level inspired our decision. To realize this, our four-year roadmap looks to deliver an enabling leadership environment for the Organization, cultivating a learning, recognition and performance culture, and facilitating collective leadership that stands up to global needs and demands. 

We plan to enhance leadership by creating an environment where our direction (agreement on what the collective is trying to achieve together and the capacity to drive results in a single front), alignment (effective coordination and integration of our work that is compatible to the service of the shared direction and our unified alliance of diverse stakeholders) and commitment (ensuring the success of the collective – rather than individual success –remains a priority and that engagement to IOM’s principles and strategy is maintained), are fully embodied in IOM’s programming and management and understood by all staff members.

The IOM approach: UN Emerging Leaders Experience

Programmes like UNELE are important for this endeavour, particularly as it relates to IOM’s mid-level managers. Through the programme, we have bridged the gap between leadership development in IOM and the UN System, by addressing learning and leadership development needs of mid-level managers for example communication and interpersonal skills. Feedback on the programme (including the virtual version that was developed during the pandemic) has also consistently acknowledged the high standard of the training.

We also had several staff – who have taken part in the programme – assume senior leadership positions. Some of them have gone on to become chief of missions, which clearly demonstrates UNELE creates opportunities for staff to grow their potential and assume leadership roles.

Our commitment to equip and enable mid-managers to lead their teams in evolving circumstances is affirmed by the increasing number of UNELE seats that have been reserved by the organization over the years. Furthermore, managers are equally taking the initiative to enhance their capability to lead in an inclusive and empathetic way as suggested by the increasing number of applications submitted between 2018-2021.

Building a robust leadership pipeline for the future

IOM’s workforce continues to grow – it now has over 23,000 personnel. Among these are a sizable number of middle-management staff, both national and international, who work to find ways to contribute to a more coherent, holistic, and adaptable approach to migration. 

Staff in these levels need to be capacitated with stronger leadership skills, such as those acquired from the UNELE, so that shared leadership is personified in their work, cultivated in the environment they work in, and cascaded to next generations of IOM staff. Increasingly investing in the UNELE will allow us to support mid-level managers in a more proactive way and enable them to be better prepared, from an organizational point of view, for future workplace shifts. It will also help staff more easily navigate the demands at the country level and embrace broader system-wide challenges.

I share details of this and more in the UNELE spotlight interview with Aida Ghazaryan. Tune in on YouTube.

Stay tuned for upcoming UNEL-e Spotlight interviews with Alumni and UN Organizations.  If you are keen to step up your leadership in the UN, we will be happy to welcome you for our 2021 edition of the UN Emerging Leaders Experience e-Learning programme (6 October-12 November 2021). Enrol today to join our vibrant community of alumni.

For testimonials from the UNEL-e  alumni please watch the trailers and testimonials here or search for #UNELE2020#UNELE2021, #UNELEeca  across social media. Please have a look at the Open house webinar recordingpresentation and programme e-book.  For any inquiries on the upcoming editions and customized programmes for emerging leaders, please email leadershipandmanagement@unssc.org