Our Journey to the top

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.

Prof. Bertini finishing her class at the United Nations in New York with 26 Maxwell graduate students from 15 countries, pictured here at the General Assembly

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.

The 2017 UN orgs – Managing for Change Maxwell School Class poses for a picture at the Fisher Centre with outgoing World Food Program Executive Director Ertharin Cousins and Prof. Bertini

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.



Watch what you say today…

Whenever I am trying to get a sense of a firm I will be visiting, I usually make use of google to read up on it. I did the same before I came to Syracuse University. I somehow do the same for people too. To kind of get a sense of what sort of persona an individual has, I usually look at the person’s social media.

Remember that what you do now has a bearing on your future regardless of the career path that you choose. Unless you care less about that, you will throw all sorts of muck about your life either on social media or in the public domain. If in true Maxwellian fashion you intend to conquer the world like me, then you will certainly mind that which you share with the public.

Be very careful with what you post on your facebook and twitter. Research now shows that 45 percent of the employers when competition is stiff do look at your social media as a basis to eliminate a few candidates. As you enjoy your social media freedom, please mind your decorum and parlance. Do not let that one post stand between you and that dream job.

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Bureaucracy: How Things Get Done in Foreign Affairs

I’ve been thinking about bureaucracy a lot lately, especially as I hit my 4th week in the Department of State. This past summer, the MPA students took “Public Administration and Democracy,” where we learned that basically bureaucracy exists to get things done. Sure, there’s the glitz and glamor of policy and politics, but when it gets down to it, bureaucracy lies at the heart of a functioning society. Of course, back then my impression of what that meant was in terms of making sure the lights come on and the buses run (sometimes even on time). However, I never realized how that related to foreign affairs until now.

Source: http://media.fakeposters.com/results/2012/01/28/zniah5e4q3.jpg
Not even tanks can escape the bureaucracy of the toll booth operator!

Bureaucracy helps make US embassies safe. Bureaucracy uphold US diplomatic relationships with other nations. Bureaucracy keeps nasty weapons out of the wrong hands. Heck… bureaucracies even help us MAIR interns get to our internships when we fly! When it comes to State Department bureaucracy, there’s a lot of waiting around for clearances, for badges, and even for access to a computer. You have to check a document that 10 other people have checked, then forward it on for 5 more people to check over. I used to think this was over-kill, but then when I considered what might happen without these checks… well, those things that I mentioned in the first few sentences might not be the case anymore. International security and foreign relations might be compromised without these basic steps that so annoy all of us.

Whether it’s diplomacy, humanitarian aid, international organizations, trade, or nonproliferation, bureaucracy makes sure that policies can be put into place. It helps the right people get the right resources in order to make sure everyone can do their job. Without it, we’d just have a bunch of words and nothing being done. All of the things that people want to actually do in the world wouldn’t be able to happen if bureaucrats weren’t rolling up their sleeves and typing up some memos to an embassy. It’s just amazed me how many of the officers in DOS rely on this kind of bureaucracy to make sure things happen. International relations isn’t just a set of theories and abstract concepts about security or development work…. instead it’s filled with real people doing real work to make the world a better place. And the rules that govern them help keep it all relatively in order despite everything that’s working against it.

source: http://izquotes.com/quotes-pictures/quote-the-only-thing-that-saves-us-from-bureaucracy-is-its-inefficiency-an-efficient-bureaucracy-is-the-eugene-mccarthy-330947.jpg
(source: http://izquotes.com/quotes-pictures/quote-the-only-thing-that-saves-us-from-bureaucracy-is-its-inefficiency-an-efficient-bureaucracy-is-the-eugene-mccarthy-330947.jpg)

If it’s one last thing I’ve learned in the State Department– besides lots of foreign affairs– it’s that MAIR students learn just as much about bureaucracy as MPA students. We may not have the requirement to take the specific class on it (although thanks to Maxwell we’re still 100% able to take the class), but we sure as heck learn about it during our time here anyway. The internship has been an incredible way to take all of the big concepts we learned in the classroom in Syracuse and apply it directly to what we want to be doing in the first place. This is even more important when you consider how hard it is to get your foot in the door in some of these places.

Also, it wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the mad writing skills that Maxwell has helped me gain– I’ve gotten so many compliments on my memos!