A question that confronts many aspiring leaders who join our UN emerging leaders E-learning programme is, “What kind of UN leader can I be?” In pursuit of an answer, they look for learning opportunities to help them gain new skills, become more self-aware and come to a deeper understanding of their motivations. But what does being a UN leader really mean, and how can emerging UN leaders ensure that their behaviour reflects the vision, principles and values of UN leadership? The dexterity of a leader comes with behaving like one and learning by doing. 


Anchoring leadership in a common vision

The UN System Leadership Framework (UNSLF), which was adopted by the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) in April 2017, aims to create a common vision for leadership across the UN system that is applicable to all UN personnel at all levels (‘leadership from where you sit’).

The framework is profoundly behaviourally oriented and puts in bold print the key challenge we have in front of us, namely: 

“Individual behaviours are among the building blocks of organizational culture. We must therefore aim to change key behaviours in the UN system, just as we must work to change associated mind-sets and attitudes.”

Aligned to the UNSLF, the newly released Resident Coordinator Leadership Profile unpacks the values, foundational attributes, knowledge competencies, and behavioural indicators. These include among others:

-   the ability to demonstrate consistency and reliability, and easily connect with a broad and diverse array of stakeholders across organizational, sectoral, political, gender, generational, cultural, socio-economic and other boundaries;

-   the ability to articulate a compelling message about why collective results matter and how achieving them can help stakeholders achieve their own objectives;

-   the ability to provide a vision and develop strategies to translate policies into action and achieve impact in multidisciplinary and politically complex environments.

Secretary General António Guterres, in his address to staff in January 2017, emphasized that implementing the abovementioned behavioural changes was everyone’s business:

“So we need to have a strong engagement to change, to reform and to improve. And that engagement needs to be our engagement, by all of us. It is not an engagement of the Secretary-General or one or other managers of the Organization. It must be our collective engagement, to be able to address the shortcomings that we have.”  

‘The Senior Leadership Commitments for the Future of Work in the UN’ and the new UN Competency Framework, that are in a drafting stage, mark a step in this direction too.

Given this outlook, emerging UN leaders need to prepare for what seems to be essential: the urgent need for leaders who are able to anchor their leadership in the common leadership vision of the United Nations.

To deliver on this common vision and help build a new generation of UN leaders, UNSSC is offering the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning programme (UNEL-e) for UN staff at the P2 and P3 level. The programme which celebrates its eighth anniversary this year has been redesigned to help leaders meet the challenges of the UN System Leadership Framework amidst a changing global context, including the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The programme embraces a “Leadership from where you sit” approach, which echoes the Secretary General’s desire that we all need to be engaged in improving and reforming the UN. It also stresses the importance of starting the change process with oneself.

To achieve this, UNEL-e   employs the latest insights from evidence-based leadership theories, cognitive neuroscience and adult learning, and offers different interactive methodologies and learning activities. It is based on values, norms and principles that build on core leadership qualities by exposing participants to the real-life experiences of influencers and leaders across the system alongside a cohort of leaders from other UN agencies.

Not only does the programme integrate the self-directed learning on key leadership and management areas, it also offers moderated expert webinars and multiple virtual learning spaces that stretch participants outside of their comfort zones. The “No stretch, no growth” approach is emphasized throughout the programme.

UNEL-e also stresses regular practice and learning application by offering tools that can be used in the workplace. Participants are encouraged to be maverick thinkers who are open to trying new ideas within their respective UN agencies.The programme generates a positive learning environment.

At UNSSC we believe that for the emerging UN leader, programmes like UNEL-e should be an inextricable part of a “leadership toolkit” designed to support the development of a range of competencies and ensure that all leaders embody the characteristics of UN leadership and showcase these new behaviours.  


A call to action

The quest for leadership excellence is a continuous one, and behavioural change forms the foundation for leadership development. Although the goal to grow as a leader can be unsettling, adopting daily incremental changes through applying learned actions and behaviours can mould UN emerging leaders to be the leaders they aspire to be.

Advanced in a subtle art of poetry, Rudyard Kipling, the English journalist, short-story writer, novelist and the youngest person to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, stimulated our thinking about possible leadership attributes in his poem ‘If’ to his son.

As you read (or listen) to the verse -- whether too ambitious or impossible to act upon (that is up to you to decide), you choose every day not only what kind of leader you want to be but also what kind of person you want to be


The next editions of UN Emerging Leaders

If you are interested in sharpening your leadership behaviours 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). Should you wish to see the testimonials of our alumni please have a look here, search for #UNELE2020 and #UNELEeca  across social media and stay tuned for upcoming UNEL-e Spotlight interviews.

For any inquiries on the upcoming editions and customized programmes for emerging leaders, please email leadershipandmanagement@unssc.org.

The opinions expressed in our blog posts are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of UNSSC, the United Nations or its members.

The opinions expressed in our blog posts are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of UNSSC, the United Nations or its members.