Aida Ghazaryan (UNSSC Learning Portfolio Manager) continues the spotlight series in another special edition with Klaus Beck (Regional Programme Adviser at UNFPA Bangkok). In this interview they discuss his learning experience and career transition following his participation in the UN Emerging Leaders Experience (UNELE) in 2017. He shares insights on how UNELE prepared him to become a more agile and transformative leader at regional and country level.
Aida: Klaus, great to talk to you today. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey at the United Nations?
Klaus: I got inspired to work for the UN, specifically the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), through my university studies that focused on development economics and demography. I also drew inspiration from my friends who worked for the UN and acted as mentors at the time. My first personal UN experience was an internship in New York and my first job after graduating was as a Junior Professional Officer (JPO) for UNFPA in the Philippines. The JPO experience was particularly formative and impactful for me, significantly shaping my professional and personal life. I went on to spend five years in the private sector doing international consultancy work before returning to UNFPA in 2005. Since then, I have spent about half the time in various capacities to our headquarters in New York and the other half in country and regional roles in the Philippines, India and Thailand.
Aida: Since you joined the UN Emerging Leaders Experience you moved from the country office (Philippines) to the regional level (Thailand) at UNFPA – a leap not only in your substantive role but also your role and function. How has the UN Emerging Leaders Experience programme contributed to your ability to navigate in changing contexts and carry out the UNFPA mandate?
Klaus: That is a challenging question as I still feel I have a lot to learn about adaptive management.
UNFPA’s adaptive management model talks about leadership, collaboration, agility, and learning as the drivers behind adaption. All of those ring true in my previous and current job.
One way to think about this is to reflect on how even when we continue doing the same job, what is required from us to do the job differs from year to year, from month to month and even from day to day. COVID-19 made this more visible and urgent but this had always been the case. In my job what is needed from me today to help a country office develop a new, quality country programme and get it approved by our Executive Board is not the same as three years ago.
It requires leadership first and foremost at the country level but also at the regional and global levels – we all have critical parts to play. Collaboration, especially co-creation, is more critical than ever both with national and international partners, across the UN system and within organizations like UNFPA. Without that we would not have high quality, impactful country programmes approved by the Executive Board. For this we need to be agile and willing to make changes along the way, be flexible with how we apply our guidance and be willing to listen to and accept feedback especially when it challenges the way we see things.
Finally, we need to reflect and think through what we learned from the past and what is needed in the future to be relevant as an organization and adapt accordingly in a world impacted by not only COVID-19 but also by conflict and increased polarization within and between countries. The UNELE helped me anchor my work on norms and principles while at the same time being inclusive and collaborative which is needed to counter this polarization.
"UNELE helped me anchor my work on norms and principles while at the same time being inclusive and collaborative."
Aida: The UN needs to be more mindful of the diverse aspirations of today’s multi-generational workforce. Could you share what you found extraordinary about your learning experience on the UNELE programme.
Klaus: When I attended the UNELE the participants came into this with different experiences and job functions. There was also a wide range in terms of age and level of position.
UNELE itself was an equalizer, allowing all of us to come together equally as participants, all of us engaging and exploring leadership together. The UN System Leadership Framework which had just been adopted calls on us all to lead and focus on self-application. Both UNELE and the UNSLF have helped me better internalize my thinking in order to put key leadership qualities into action.
After the training I became very conscious of providing opportunities for younger and junior colleagues to be able to lead older and more senior colleagues including myself.
For this to succeed I have learned that I need to be clear about the general expectations I have. I have to be clear about the support I can provide, and I have also learned to embrace the risks that letting go of control entails. I am also much more conscious of being explicit about commending young and junior colleagues when they take opportunities to lead and do it well. This helps everyone understand that leadership is for, and by everyone.
"After the training I became very conscious of providing opportunities for younger and junior colleagues to be able to lead older and more senior colleagues including myself."
Aida: As you think back, in which ways did UNELE help you with value-alignment and getting new career growth opportunities?
Klaus: The aspects of the training that related to multi-dimensionality and collaboration have been particularly critical in my current regional role. In this role, I need to work across technical areas to support countries and country offices. I am expected to help implement and apply organizational policies and guidance while helping to advocate changes based on emerging field realities.
However, I personally have no formal authority over any of this so I have to draw on my learnings about leading from wherever you are. In such cases collaboration is often critical. It helps you to understand the perspectives of others, without that I think it is not possible to effect change.
"The aspects of the training that related to multi-dimensionality and collaboration have been particularly critical in my current regional role."
Aida: Based on your UNELE experience, what do you think it takes to lead in the UN?
Klaus: I attended this training when the UN system leadership framework had just been adopted in April 2017. This made the training particularly exciting. The training is anchored in the framework, and this helped equip me with the understanding of the basic leadership elements that are envisioned by the UN. Before the training I had wondered how to lead, what my approach to leading would be, or if it would just be up to me to decide? Is leadership different based on our background and if so is that okay? The training helped clarify what is expected of me.
This strengthened my confidence in my UN Resident Coordinator (UNRC) a.i. and UN Country Team (UNCT) member roles. I got to understand what others could and should expect from me and what I could and should expect from others. It also reinforced my leadership confidence as my capacity was strengthened.
In terms of what it takes to lead, the UN System leadership framework provides the North Star and gives the principles, but the day to day navigation of leadership is up to us and it is context specific. When I led the implementation of a humanitarian response in the Philippines, action had to be taken and things had to move. This is different from the kind of leadership needed when we reflect on whether the way we are doing things is the best and whether we need to reimagine processes, systems and policies. Here we have to take time to listen, reflect, learn, explore and also figure out how to get others on board to make changes.
For me personally leading in the UN requires me to be open, authentic and to be humble. Having a lot of humility, including the ability to apologize when I am or have been wrong, that is essential for me. In this way I continue to see myself as an emerging leader - I am still learning.
"The training is anchored in the framework, and this helped equip me with the understanding of the basic leadership elements that are envisioned by the UN."
Aida: Would you recommend this training programme to other emerging leaders and why?
Klaus: Yes definitely. Many staff, including myself, find that the demands of work combined with the demands at home give us very little time to invest in ourselves and in our career. As there is always a document to read, an email to write, a task to complete, even just finding time to reflect is difficult especially on something like leadership which we often do not even talk about. UNELE provides such a space and opportunity and in an environment where you get to do that with colleagues from across the system. Connecting with colleagues and peers across geographies and organizations is what makes the UNELE so special. It supports the changes we want to make and see where UN collaboration is concerned.
Therefore, if you get the chance to do this – don’t miss it!
"Connecting with colleagues and peers across geographies and organizations is what makes the UNELE so special. It supports the changes we want to make and see where UN collaboration is concerned."
Stay tuned for upcoming UNEL-e Spotlight interviews from UN organizations and Alumni that benefited from the UNEL-e programme. If you are keen to step up your leadership in the UN, and align your leadership behaviours to the principled and visionary leadership in the UN, we are happy to welcome you to our 2022 edition of the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning (19 October-1 December, 2022). Should you wish to see the testimonials of our alumni please have a look at the trailers and testimonials here, the graduation speeches from the last cohort here, read spotlight interviews here or search for #UNELE2020, #UNELE2021, #UNELE2022, #UNELEeca across social media.
You are welcome to have a look at our latest Open house webinar recording, presentation and programme e-book. For any inquiries on the upcoming editions and customized programmes for emerging leaders, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.