In a special edition of the UNEL-e spotlight interviews, Aida Ghazaryan (UNSSC Portfolio Learning Manager) brings a variety of perspectives and journeys from the first-generation Alumni of UN Emerging Leaders Experience programme.  Today’s guest is Jesús Guerrero Buitrago (Chief of Management and Communications Unit, UN Office at Geneva), who took part in the 2013 UN Emerging Leaders Experience programme.

We hope this story serves as a useful resource for UN colleagues who are at a crossroads in their leadership paths, and considering joining programmes like the UN Emerging Learning e-Learning (UNEL-e).

Aida: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, Jesús? How did you get to where you are today and how did UNELE prepare you for your current role?

Jesús: I arrived in the United Nations as an intern in 1999. After several years working for different Organisations of the UN System, I arrived at the Staff Development and Learning Section (SDLS) at the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) in 2007. The learning and development field has been my professional home for the last 15 years. Today I am working as Chief of the Management and Communication Unit at the Centre for Learning and Multilingualism at UNOG.

I participated in the UNELE in 2013. Taking the 360-assessment allowed me to understand my strengths and areas for development. The programme also helped me enlarge my view on leadership and acquire new skills in areas such as communication, influencing and conflict management. It was the first time I could reflect on different elements such as my values at work, competencies and leading style.

"The UNELE programme also helped me enlarge my view on leadership and acquire new skills.”

Aida: What key accomplishments are you proud of since taking the UNELE? What do you enjoy and find meaningful about leading in the UN today?

Jesús: There are many accomplishments I am proud of, both small and big. One of the most recent achievements has been transforming our face-to-face courses into virtual trainings in less than 3 months during the first lockdown in 2020. My work has dramatically changed since COVID-19 and leading in times of uncertainty has become the new normal. Having a purpose and a clear vision of how I want to contribute to the Organization has helped me to lead in the VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity).

Aida: We know from the UN System Leadership Framework, that we are all called to lead and that leadership is intrinsically linked to specific behaviours and actions. What leadership behaviours have you employed since taking part in the UNELE?  How has this helped you lead regardless of your position.

Jesús: The development and implementation of the UN System Leadership Framework has been a key milestone. It outlines the leadership qualities needed to foster a cultural change within United Nations and states that these qualities need to be embedded in all areas of work, at all levels and in all functions and locations. Although all the eight areas are important, I have been paying special attention to four of them: I make sure I am inclusive and respectful with my colleagues and everyone I interact with, accountable for my choices and actions and aware of the multidimensional reality I work in. In addition, I really like collaborating with others, such as colleagues, internal and external partners as well as other Organizations in the UN System. I believe that real leadership is about supporting and inspiring people, so that they can become their own leaders in anything they are responsible for.

"I believe that real leadership is about supporting and inspiring people, so that they can become their own leaders in anything they are responsible for.”

Aida: That’s so true! Let me ask then, how has UNELE helped you evolve and grow? What advice would you give to your younger self at the time when you were on the UNELE programme back in 2013?

Jesús: I think UNELE helped me understand that leadership is a state of mind, rather than a compilation of skills, competencies, and attitudes. If you have the right mindset, leadership will come naturally to you. Everything else can be learned.

If I had to give myself some advice, I would say: “Jesús, in those moments when you will be confronted with difficult situations, doubts, lack of motivation, remember your purpose and your commitment to make an impact through your contribution. Be curious, look for opportunities around you, let other people know about what you are interested in, be bold, don’t wait for others to give you permission. The world is for those who dare. Be open to new ideas, opinions, and don’t be afraid of people having a different point of view.”

"UNELE helped me understand that leadership is a state of mind... If you have the right mindset, leadership will come naturally to you.”

Aida: A truly precious piece of advice, Jesús…What are the most valuable skills that you learned in UNELE?

Jesús: We learned different skills throughout the programme, however I remember a particular session on communication skills facilitated by Prof. John Antonakis, from the University of Lausanne. His intervention made me realize the power of communication. Particularly how you can influence and persuade others when you are connected to your own values and emotions and how you can develop your charisma using different tools and techniques when you live your values.

Aida: What were the most memorable lessons from the UNELE?  How have you changed following the programme?  

Jesús:  My main lesson from the UNELE was that leadership is a state of mind, an attitude, a mindset. The programme was built to equip us with tools and techniques to feel confident about our actions, choices, and approaches when leading teams. There is a quote from Kofi Annan that I particularly like. It says “To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.” I like to change the verb “live” by “LEAD”, as you lead by the way you live your purpose, values, and ideals. 

Aida: That’s a powerful quote indeed. As a colleague working in the training sector, Jesús, what value do you see in UN Emerging Leaders programme and how do you think it will help shaping UN leaders?

Jesús: The UNELE is an excellent opportunity to develop oneself, to step out of one’s comfort zone and to understand the multiple aspects of leading people and teams. I think one of the most important aspects of a programme like the UNELE is the opportunity to meet new people, share experiences with other participants and learn from each other. Although the programme gives you the opportunity to acquire new knowledge, competencies, and skills, one of the most important elements is the opportunity to be exposed to different people, contexts, and realities of the UN System. Embracing diversity is the key for the new generation of UN leaders.

"The UNELE is an excellent opportunity to develop oneself… one of the most important elements is being exposed to different people, contexts, and realities of the UN System. Embracing diversity is the key for the new generation of UN leaders.”

Aida: Year 2020 was an unusual year. What have you learnt and what would you do differently, given the benefit of hindsight in the context of leadership? And just to wrap up the conversation, are there any important bites of wisdom that you'd like to leave our emerging leaders with? 

Jesús: 2020 was a challenging and yet exciting year. It gave us the possibility to reinvent ourselves, our work and even the way we want to contribute to our Organizations. My own learning has been to use the crisis as an opportunity, to follow my instinct and specially to make sure I put some boundaries between my working and my personal life. Taking care of myself has been my biggest challenge and at the same time my biggest learning in the last 12 months. 2020 has made me realize that you can only lead others by example. You want people to look at you and say, "if he can do it, I can do it." When you lead by example, you make it easy for others to follow you.

"2020 has made me realize that you can only lead others by example.”

Aida: Thank you, Jesús, I really enjoyed our conversation. It was delightful to hear your genuine interest in fulfilling leadership role in the UN and how UNELE has accompanied you on your unique leadership and career path.  

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 blended programme (8 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.



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.