Since leaders set the agenda, they ultimately influence the organization’s culture and, in turn, its long-term effectiveness. Unfortunately, be it at the local community or international levels in politics, religion, business or humanitarian work, great leadership is hard to come by. The influence which leaders have on the performance of their teams can provide a basis for a fundamental shift in the culture and policies which govern their institutions. The World Food Programme (WFP) management practices during the decade of change under Catherine Bertini is clearly a textbook case of how to successfully breathe a new lease of life in the management of an organization, which has existed for decades.
What a person wears influences how people perceive that individual which ultimately affects how the person will be treated. In determining her dress code during her time in office during the decade of change, Bertini always endeavored to dress in a manner which was appropriate to the culture of the environments she went to during the call of duty. Most managers take this lightly and wonder what contributes to them not being properly received when they reach a new area. In management, you need to look the part at all times.
Before adequately addressing the systematic challenges to the operations of an institution, a leader must firstly endeavor to fully understand the nature and extent of the problems at hand. When Bertini took over the operations at WFP, she commissioned an audit of the financial operations and management systems, which revealed glaring irregularities that needed to be addressed urgently. This provided a solid platform upon which to get funding to address the challenges as WFP could provide detailed information on the nature and extent of the problems at hand to the donors. Related to this was her putting a person in charge of strictly overseeing the implementation of the solutions to the identified problems. Management training at all levels was also critical to the successful implementation of the solutions. This helps every member of the team to properly play their part in the overall meeting of the set goals during a given period.
Branding and communication is another area which was addressed and improved upon in a way which enhanced the visibility of WFP and the work which it was doing during the decade of change. Effective branding and communication work is at the heart of good public relations which can improve an organization’s capacity to attract funding, thereby serving more beneficiaries and advancing its mission. Another milestone during the decade of change was the creation of a mission statement. By that time, it became the second UN agency to have one. This was a master stroke. The mission statement sets the context within which the organization’s employees strive for excellence and work to achieve the set goals.
At the heart of this momentous period was the desire by Bertini to lead a united and cohesive team. According to her, power struggles have led to so many organizations flying way below their potential. Unlike other agencies, it is with this thinking in mind that in her new organizational structure, she only had room for one deputy. The decade of change of WFP does most certainly contain a lot of leadership nuggets worthy to be in a management textbook on the shelf of a manager who wants to provide real leadership which goes beyond ‘the business as usual approach.’ It is this this knowledge which Bertini shared with her class on the third day of the United Nations Orgs-Managing for Change Course at Syracuse University’s Fisher Centre right in the blissful heart of New York.
Maxwell School students might not have their path to the top paved with concrete bricks, but most certainly, like renowned Mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, their way to the top is made easier through being helped to see further by standing on the shoulders of academic giants who surround them in abundance in a wide array of fields.