Anne Wangui Njoroge (Training Officer, Integrated Mission Training Center, MINUSMA HQ) recently spoke to Aida Ghazaryan (UNSSC Portfolio Learning Manager) regarding her experience of the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning programme. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic UNSSC had to quickly convert this flagship programme into an online version, forcing Aida and her team to think strategically about designing an immersive virtual learning journey complemented by digital technologies. In this interview we “put the spotlight” on Anne who shares her experiences of the UNEL-e programme, and describes how it is it is beginning to help her to think differently and embrace the UN’s new leadership culture.
Aida: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career journey in the UN, Anne.
Anne: I started off 13 years ago, as a UN volunteer training assistant in Liberia, where I served for 7 years before moving on to Mali. I am still in training and have been here (in Mali) for 6 years.
As a training assistant, I oversaw my deliverables and did not supervise others. I knew that as my career progressed, I wanted to be a team leader, I also knew that I wanted to be ready for the task. I wanted to be mentally equipped to deal with the leadership responsibilities. I had seen ‘good’ leaders and ‘not-so-good’ leaders. Therefore, the opportunity to be a supervisor was one that I was keen on, and eager to be in. I wanted to be the ‘best version of myself.
It has now been six years of leading a team and I have cherished the opportunity and welcomed feedback from the team on how to lead better. I continue to implement this feedback. I am work-in-progress, striving to be a better model of myself. I now realize that leadership is an adventurous journey, arduous at times yet deeply satisfying when one is intentional and equipped.
“The UNEL-e course has elevated my leadership platform”
Aida: It sounds like you are passionate about learning. Could you tell us what you found extraordinary about your learning experience on the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning Programme?
Anne: I knew that a leadership course would be value- adding yet had no idea just how much value that would be. It is truly the ‘magic pill leadership course’ as so much goodness is packed in it. It leaves an indelible print, not only on one’s leadership at work, but across different aspects. I appreciated the carefully crafted online modules, the self-learning as well as the reflection and the coaching sessions. I also enjoyed learning virtually, as it allowed for time to move at one’s pace, giving adequate time for the learning to settle-in.
The UNEL-e course was significant to my leadership growth as it gave me not only a 360-degrees self-view, but also exposed me to leadership best practices , and enlightened me on what is expected from a UN system leader. I learnt that, leadership is a structured and deliberate process, there is a formula which if learnt and practiced consistently, is the deal maker.
Aida: In your bio, you describe yourself as a “reliable, goal-focused human resource generalist with 16 years’ experience in the UN and in Kenya.” How did the UNEL-e programme contribute to your professional development?
Anne: The UNEL-e course has elevated my leadership platform. I now have a much better view of leadership in the UN, and I also feel like I have the tools, in terms of what’s expected and how to go about it. I feel equipped to lead on! I had always said that I would like to be ‘baked’ for the next level, meaning that I wanted to be ready to take on a higher-level post. This training has just done that, I feel “well marinated and ready for the roast”.
Before, while I really wanted to be a better leader, I did not quite know how to. What did I need to do, how was I to get beyond myself, and adopt a winning leaders’ attitude?
Some useful lessons I have adopted from the UNEL-e course include:
Rephrasing and listening to understand, and appreciate the value of other point of views. This fosters good communication by making people feel seen and heard.
A deeper level of self-awareness and self-regulation by labelling, recognizing, allowing, investigating and nurturing emotions to allow for a healthy expression of emotions.
Forming a habit of setting intentions, reminding myself that behind the what I want is a ‘why’ which is very inspirational. I have learnt to be clear on these and articulate them. I now understand the power of reflection and deliberating with myself.
Aida: What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman in leadership, and how has this training changed your perspective? How did you grow as a woman leader as a result of this training programme?
Anne: Very honestly, I think I was almost clueless about leadership. I would see good leaders and think, ‘Whoa, I admire their people skills, but mostly thought that it was a natural trait. Now I understand that one can groom themselves through consistency, and goal setting aimed at specific leadership ideals. As a woman, I realize it takes stepping out, speaking out, just taking little doses of courage to realize one’s potential. The challenges have been more within than without, as an example questioning my capabilities and my readiness, shying away, not being bold, being content, not ‘rocking the boat’.
Of course, leadership is for the bold-hearted, being cowardly and timidly does not cut-it. This training has re-opened the door to leadership adventures, which is a front that I am interested in.
“As a woman, I realize it takes stepping out, speaking out, just taking little doses of courage to realize one’s potential.”Aida: What were the most memorable lessons from the UNEL-e programme?
Anne: I promised myself and others to read, write and reflect. These are some of the practices that leaders adopt , and I am becoming deliberate about these. There was so much learning on what a UN leader is like, they build trust, emotional intelligence, and they listen.
The course had world-class passionate subject matter experts. I will never forget the leading through communication by Robert M. Anderson who had a ‘controversial topic pair activity’ session where in pairs we had to talk through a controversial topic, and the other person was to show understanding. Even though one’s instinct was to disagree, we were practising how to ‘listen with understanding’. It proved the power of communication when people feel heard. This in turn leads people to feel motivated for higher levels of collaboration. It reinforced the point that one can disagree respectfully after having heard and understood the other person.
I also enjoyed the managing emotions session by Palena Neale, where we paused to think and set intentions for what we wanted from the session. This allowed one to consciously bring one-self fully into what one is doing (the training), and be more deliberate about contributing to the outcome.
Finally, the trio reflection exercise facilitated by UNSSC online moderator Douglas Passanisi who tied in all the learning and the 360-degree self-view. We had peer-to-peer advising which helped each of us to talk through our areas of ‘weakness’ and get advice . This was a very nice closure to all the 6-weeks of learning.
Aida: As a colleague working in the training world, would you recommend this training programme to other emerging leaders and why?
Anne: Yes, I am recommending the training already because the knowledge, skills and attitude gained are a ‘game-changer’. It really is like a path has been created where there was just a bush, and now one can confidently walk through.
The course was a great opportunity to interact with UN colleagues across the globe in different entities all with one goal- to be better UN leaders. The 1.5 Hour virtual sessions were designed in an inclusive manner, with interactive group activities. We had full access to the UNSSC learning platform which has a set of enriching learning resources. It was also a seriously fun learning environment- we even had some excellent music during breaks.
I look forward to cementing this learning by buddying-up with some of the course participants to continue implementing the learning, and to be an alumnus for future leaders.
“I am recommending the training already because the knowledge, skills and attitude gained are a ‘game-changer’. ”
Aida: Thank you for telling your story with honesty and passion. Best of luck in using the UNEL-e learning to bring to life the vision and values of the 21st UN leadership!
Stay tuned for our upcoming UNEL-e Spotlight interviews.
If you are interested in enhancing your leadership skills to become a principled and visionary UN leader, look no further than the 2021 editions of the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning programme (26 March- 30 April 2021 & 8 October-12 November 2021). Enroll today to join our vibrant community of alumni.
For testimonials from the UNEL-e 2020 alumni please watch the trailers here, or search for #UNELE2020 and #UNELEeca across social media.
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