Mazen AboulHosn is a seasoned UN Leader with extensive experience in humanitarian response programming and coordination for natural disasters, conflicts, complex emergencies and migration management. In the interview below he speaks to UNSSC Learning Portfolio Manager Aida Ghazaryan to discuss his invaluable learning on the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning programme, and how it has influenced his approach to leadership. 

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career journey at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Mazen.

I have been working with IOM for more than 14 years. I started my career with IOM following a crisis in Lebanon in 2007. Then I moved to Haiti in 2010 to respond to the Haiti Earthquake. In 2011 I was assigned to Chad in response to the Libya crisis and then moved to Turkey to respond to the Van earthquake later that year. For all these assignments I was working on psychosocial programs as project coordinator, project manager and interagency working group coordinator respectively.

At the start of the 2011 Syrian Crisis, I became an Emergency Coordinator in Turkey. In this role, I had to oversee humanitarian programs and work on strategic humanitarian and development planning, including designing IOM country programs, liaising with government, donors and other UN agencies. After serving for nine years in Turkey, in one of the largest IOM missions, I was assigned as the Chief of Mission at the Kuwait IOM office in September 2020.

My career with IOM covered humanitarian response programming and coordination for natural disasters, conflicts and complex emergencies, and migration management. I worked on several programs including psychosocial, education, livelihood, health, community stabilization and migration across different themes.

2. Could you tell us what you found extraordinary about your learning experience on the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning Programme?

Having worked in one of the largest IOM missions in Turkey, and in response to a level 3 protracted crisis, I was exposed to a rich and complex experience that involved many managerial and leadership styles. When you work in a place with more than 1000 staff, interact with country offices, regional offices, and headquarters, you learn a lot by observing and by doing, especially when it comes to management.   In this respect, one interacts with colleagues, subordinates’, supervisors and stakeholders who have a variety of leadership skills and communication styles. The UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning programme was an opportunity to frame my experience in a more structured learning style. The materials used in the training and the methodology (mix of self-learning, webinars, homework and group discussions) was a comprehensive package for self-reflection on my style of leading, and what was “right” / “worked” and should continue to be used, or what should be avoided in current and future roles.

The UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning programme was an opportunity to frame my experience in a more structured and learning style.

3. From your position as an experienced humanitarian practitioner, which aspect of the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning did you find most useful  and how has this contributed to your leadership development milestones?

If I had to pick one thing that I found most useful, I would select the 360-degree assessment. It was the first time I did this kind of assessment. We generally do a yearly evaluation with our supervisor, but this assessment was very detailed. One can receive feedback from both supervisors and peers and it was interesting to see how others see our skills and behaviors at work. The expert webinars were also good as they hosted knowledgeable experts from different fields. This triggered discussion and helped with our reflection. I enjoyed the way the course was designed in terms of weekly webinars and complemented with homework where I got to use a very user-friendly learning platform. The wow factor was the visual illustration of some topics, being able to see a summary of a long topic is something that I enjoyed and found very helpful.

The wow factor was the visual illustration of some topics, being able to see a summary of a long topic is something that I enjoyed and found helpful.”

4. Have you embraced any new leadership behaviors, practices, skills and competencies that you learnt on the programme? How are those helping you with your daily work as a Chief of Mission in Kuwait?

After several years of work, I don’t think we can talk about completely new leadership behaviors but rather about behaviors that can be enhanced, that should be maintained or in some cases reshaped. In that regard and based on the wheel of emotional intelligence that was presented in the training, I am focusing on a few things in my daily work: firstly, inspirational leadership where I give space to colleagues to express their ideas while mentoring and coaching them.; secondly, empathy, which for me is crucial and I have been empathetic throughout my career. Being empathetic to others can help them enjoy their work and perform at their best. Another thing that I did was to  print the illustrations presented in the training and I posted  them in the office so all staff can look at them and use them as reminders of the type leadership envisioned in the UN System Leadership Framework. I believe this will inspire everyone!

Being empathetic to others can help them  enjoy their work and perform at their best.”

5. One of UNEL-e’s core focuses is on cultivating emotional intelligence. You have both academic and professional background in psychology. Has UNEL-e helped you expand your knowledge and competencies in this regard? If so, in what way?

When I started reading the course materials, I had a flashback of an exam topic that was given to us many years ago at university: “Explain emotional intelligence by giving detailed examples”. At the time, the topic was still new and we based our analysis on some reading. When I was going through the course materials this time, I was able to link the content to my day-to-day experience and concrete examples from my work. It refreshed my memory on this topic. It was also good to see peers (who are not from a psychology background) being fascinated by the emotional intelligence topic, a subject that many of us may use in our daily lives. Some people are born with it, while others practice it and build on it over time. I have also recently been involved in a UN mentoring program where I mentor other UN staff. This training has helped me in this regard, as I have shared a few examples from my UNEL-e course with my colleagues.  

I have also recently been involved in a UN mentoring program where I mentor other UN staff. This  training has helped me in this regard as I have shared a few examples from my learning.”

6. What were the most memorable lessons from the UNEL-e programme?

I recall few memorable lessons, the first one is managing up. Sometimes we think that talking about management refers to our relationship with those we supervise. We rarely look at how to manage relations with colleagues who are more senior.  The second lesson is the 360-degree assessment, which was new to me. As I mentioned before, I encourage anyone who undergoes this assessment to take it seriously and share it with many colleagues to get more analytical results that will help their self-reflection. It was also important to know about the UN System Leadership Framework, which should be used by all UN staff. It is considered as mandatory reading to inspire UN Staff and most importantly have them apply what is in the framework.

The 360-degree assessment which was new to me. I encourage anyone who undergoes this assessment to take it seriously and share it with many colleagues to get more analytical results that will help their self-reflection.”

7. Would you recommend this training programme to other emerging leaders? Why?

I think anyone working for the UN, or in a job that requires leadership skills should enroll in this training during the early or mid-stage of their career. The course is rich in the resources that were available on the platform, and in terms of experts from different fields. The homework and the group work were good platforms for reflection and for discussion with others. On top of that the coaching sessions can be helpful for those who have never worked with a coach. Enhancing personal leadership skills can allow managers to be more engaged with staff at work, understand their needs and reactions while finding individual and collective solutions to the challenges we face in our day-to-day job. Most importantly, this training will connect people with resourceful training faculty, alumni and UN experts in many regions and different UN entities. Allow me to thank the organizers for a well-organized training.

I think anyone working for the UN or in a job that requires leadership skills should enroll in this training during the early or mid-stage of their career.”



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