“ The maturity of an organisation’s leadership lays the foundation and sets the tone for everything that follows.
Raise emotional maturity and individuals become more secure, discerning, responsible, productive and happy.”
Edward E. Morler – The Leadership Integrity Challenge.
I started pondering on this article on 21st January, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day. My intention was to write about a highly mature being, mentioned that day in the press or other media, who somehow carries the legacy of King’s ideas.
After an hour or two of browsing and scrolling, I was not able to find a single example.
What I did come across, were numerous illustrations of the opposite.
One of them was a note in a Swedish newspaper on a United Nations’ predicament. It is not my intention to constantly find fault with that institution. But this blog’s focus is on maturity; and the UN is, unfortunately, an easy pick, with an abundance of stories on immaturity to choose among.
The latest scandal within UNAIDS is no exception. With both the executive director and his deputy “leaving prematurely” after neglecting “abuse of office, bullying and harassment”. The deputy himself was also accused of sexual harassment, though exonerated, after a criticised, internal investigation.
International aid and development organisations have gained much attention in the wake of the #metoo campaign. That may be due to their traditional culture of secrecy. It has probably more to do with the fact that we expect more from a sector that is supposed to dedicate itself to noble causes. Including the empowerment and emancipation of women.
Much focus has been on sexual harassment, but that does not exist in a vacuum. Sexual harassment often constitutes just a small fraction of the overall scope of harassment going on. Sexual harassers are not otherwise, kind, competent and trusted. Furthermore, bullying and abuse is merely one way of expressing their all-encompassing lack of integrity and emotional maturity.
What makes the UNAIDS case special, is the fact that an external investigation was carried out. And even more extraordinary, the report from that investigation has been made public.
The Report of the Independent Expert Panel
Not all accusations of harassment are true. I have personally experienced a dirty smear campaign against an innocent local staff member.
However, reading this report you quickly understand that what went on at UNAIDS was not about a handful of dubious cases. The harassment going one was systematic. As is so often the case, since harassment can only happen and continue to happen, if the leaders at the top facilitate it. Passively or actively.
The whole report is well worth reading. But if you limit yourself to merely the introduction, you will still get a picture of how ingrained and widespread the abuse was, throughout the agency.
In the report, there is no beating about the bush:
“Many staff within UNAIDS offices attest to a work culture of fear, lack of trust, and retaliation against those who speak up about harassment and abuse of power.”
A workplace pervaded by fear can never function. When you are in an environment where you constantly need to protect yourself, it is a wonder any work is carried out at all. Where fear reigns, trust is absent, leaving no room for team spirit, overcoming challenges or any kind of progress.
The expert panel continues:
“Rather, the emphasis of the UNAIDS leadership has been to blame the ‘UN system’ and its complex regime of complaints handling.”
Blaming is a core ingredient of immaturity, usually targeted at some external force. The executive director of UNAIDS did not stop at that. He even blamed his own staff.
And the expert panel conclude with:
“The Panel has no confidence that the current leadership can deliver cultural change when that leadership has been largely responsible for the current malaise. The Panel believes that for the recommendations to be genuinely implemented and UNAIDS to regain a culture of dignity and respect, a change in leadership has become necessary.”
You Become What You Recruit
People recruited to the UN, bring their existing values with them. Nothing changes just because you read the UN charter or put “UN” in front of your working title. There also seems to be a dominant, naïve perception among outsiders, that since you work with international development, you are per se a good person with strong values. The reality is very different. Within the sector, there is often an abyss between appearance and reality. Numerous cases of revealed abuse and fraud can confirm that. As is, of course, the case for many sectors in any country. But the hypocrisy becomes more flagrant for an institution, whose main purpose it is to upheld human rights.
Furthermore, those starting a UN career at a young age, are shaped by its existing values, or lack thereof. You learn that acting according to the high standards portrayed, is not what is rewarded.
The independent expert panel puts much emphasize on improving existing frameworks and procedures. Hence, they miss the core issue. What happened at UNAIDS was not caused by insufficient policies. Individual, human beings caused it. Individuals, with responsibility for other human beings’ safety and wellbeing, who so blatantly expressed their lack of integrity, had been recruited and promoted.
The only way that can happen is because they were recruited and promoted directly by, or through a system set up by, people who themselves still have some growing up to do. Being blended by academic degrees, eloquence or years of experience, without digging deeper into core beliefs, and previous record of behaviour, is an expression of immaturity. The same goes for nepotism and so called political recruitments, widespread within the UN system. Add to that, the ancient habit of turning a blind eye to serve your own interests, and the result becomes highly predictable.
The Core Issue
Impunity and insufficient ”mechanisms” are not causes. They are just the results. With emotionally mature leaders in place, the procedure for reporting harassment would have been unimportant, as any small incident of attempted harassment would have been dealt with swiftly. No matter the formalities.
The first step to recovery is increased transparency, as publishing the independent report, hopefully is a sign of.
Secondly, UNAIDS, and there are plenty of other organisations in the same situation, should ask themselves whether or not they are actually capable of recruiting their own staff. Or if they should leave it to an external body. That might be costly, but less costly than having their funding retracted from a major donor like Sweden. However, reaching such a conclusion presupposes a certain level of emotional maturity.
What is certain is that an organisation run by adolescents and toddlers, will not run fast, and will sooner or later be totally lost in the wilderness.
Building and maintaining maturity takes time and constant effort. Making substantial improvements though, is not that complicated, despite what is often proclaimed. A precondition is a willingness to acknowledge the root causes. In the case of UNAIDS, they are all about individuals’ values and beliefs, that have gone astray, or never were commendable in the first place.
No regulatory framework in this world can put that right.
In my last blog post, I stressed the importance of showing Nature the gratitude it deserves.
A gratitude encompassing all animals, plants, insects and microbes,
for giving us air, water and food.
Most of us understand that Nature is not just something to exploit natural resources from. However, we also need to stop looking at it merely as a source of recreation, an object to benefit from.
Instead, we should ask ourselves: “How can I serve nature?” Not just nature serving us. [Read more…]
It is easy to feel overwhelmed or in a state of panic considering all the bad news pouring in about the state of the world.
Recently, World Wildlife Fund launched their annual Living Planet Report. According to the report, vertebrates (animals with backbones) have declined by 60 per cent in 40 years.
We cannot survive without nature, and we are part of it, whether we live on Greenland or in a skyscraper in a mega city. Nature is not something “out there”. [Read more…]
The more or less only thing international media reported on during the recent election campaign in Sweden, was the increased support for the right-wing party, the Swedish Democrats. How could this happen? In harmonic, prosperous Sweden? The home of ABBA and IKEA?
The obvious answer is, of course, the huge amount of migrants from, mainly, Muslim countries. This peaked during 2015. But Sweden has received many thousands of refugees from, among others, Iraq in the years before that. Too many of the migrants have not integrated well into society. With high unemployment, crime gangs and burning cars as a result. [Read more…]
Watching the final debate between the leaders of the political parties in Sweden, my reflection was a very different one from the one that was dominant in the media.
I started to imagine what it would be like for someone in a country like Guatemala, to follow the Swedish election campaign.
For those of you who are not updated: Sweden held its national elections two weeks ago. The mayor, governing party since World War II has been the Social Democratic party. And in later decades interchangeably, centre-right coalitions. What was new this year was the increased support for the anti-immigration party, the Swedish Democrats. The only sensational thing happening in responsible, but oh so dull Swedish politics for decades.
I have lived in Guatemala, but it is just an example of a country that is officially a democracy. But where power and wealth are in the hands of a minor elite, while larger parts of the population live in poverty. Corruption and impunity is rife. Most people on this planet live in malfunctioning countries like that; or in countries where you are not even able to vote.
For those of you not familiar with the term Political Correctness:
Here is a definition from the Cambridge Dictionary:
“Someone who is politically correct believe that language and actionsthat could be offensive to others, especially those relating to sex and race, should be avoided.”
Political correctness (PC) is about silencing what does not pleases us. That does not mean it will go away. Racism does not go away because you start to call people apples instead of oranges. Sexual harassment does not go away, because you decide on a new policy or a Code of Conduct.
The concept is very much a Western creation, but according to my experience you can find it any culture, just in different forms and under a different name.
I regularly amuse myself, especially in other countries, with making observations about people’s behaviour.
Everybody makes these observations. And are often eager to share them with compatriots or other expats: “Can you believe what I saw them do!!??!!”.
But have you ever been thinking that such observations may be useful to your work?
That they may be just as good a guideline as any country report?
Such observations can be even more useful when you compare countries. Making you understand why what worked in one country may not in another.
Observed Differences Between two “C” Countries: Colombia and Cambodia
In Colombia, most street vendors and taxi drivers have change. In Cambodia never.
People should be evalutated on whether or not they positively influence others
My last article was about the consequences of hiring jerks. This article is about a few simple steps to avoid them.
Often some form of so-called soft skills are included among the requirments in a job advertisement. (Why are they called soft, when they are essential?) Still, most recruitment processes tend to focus on skills and experience.
The argument against hiring for character traits or attitude is that it is too complicated, too expensive or too something else.
So what can you do about it? If you are working with HR, part of any interview panel or otherwise engaged in recruitment.
Or perhaps you simply want to have a say, because you have experienced too many failed recruitments, too many promotions for the wrong reasons. And worked with too many managers, “bosses” or “heads” that are jerks or close to.
I have worked for “experienced” heads of offices of international organisations, who would have been fired if they had worked for a remote municipality in Lapland.
There are 3 simple things you can do or suggest no matter your position in an organization. And you can implement or suggest them with without needing much experience in recruiting. [Read more…]