Looming deadlines, troubles with suppliers, staff engagement issues – these are the typical challenges a leader faces each and every day.
Bombs dropping from the air is not, for most, a reality they must deal with alongside the routine paperwork. But for Nebras Haj Hamden, a Field Coordinator for GOAL in Syria, the sound of planes overhead is the way his day often begins.
‘My day starts with the roar of the air force over my town’ said Nebras, talking over Skype. ‘After any airstrike, one or more people from my neighbourhood will be dead or wounded. My cousin, his wife and their two children were killed under the rubble. It is death, flying.’
Managing nearly 400 people, as Nebras does, within a war zone is an exercise in resilience, agility and leadership strength, and this year he was able to develop his own leadership abilities with IMI through a partnership between GOAL.
In 2018, 47 leaders in GOAL were brought to IMI to participate in a range of programmes that would impact on front lines around the world. From developing frontline management skills to strategic programmes for senior leaders, the IMI partnership provided Goal the opportunity to energise its leaders in head office and on the ground.
On another continent to Nebras, GOAL’s Vincent Mujune is battling poverty and political upheaval in his role in Uganda. As an accountability director for a major health programme, the uncertainty and volatility in his environment can almost be as difficult to overcome as the challenges seen in Syria.
‘There are many issues here. We have a population that is growing very fast – from 41 million now to around 60 million by 2030 – and poverty and disease are still major problems in the country’ said Vincent. ‘The reason I joined GOAL is the way it approaches how they work with vulnerable people. We give an opportunity to build the strengths of such people to come up with their own solutions.’
An Agile Mission
‘Our leaders must have the broader view of what GOAL’s mission is, not just be focussed on their particular project. We need them to strategically ask themselves the question ‘what is my role?’ and the programmes within IMI are critical in achieving that mindset’ said Siobhan Walsh, CEO of GOAL. ‘The passion and perspective that the IMI’s partnership has given teams on the ground is tangible. We have absolutely seen that change of mindset – you can almost put your hand on it.’
Emergencies, by their very nature, require quick responses. As a charity with decades of experience in doing just that, GOAL is a model at scaling quickly. Developing the leaders which must execute this scaling is a cornerstone for retaining and improving this organisational ability, which in turn made it a cornerstone of the work done with IMI.
Even the simple act of taking time-out to develop as a leader had a strategic benefit.
‘Because we are dealing with critical needs every day, it keeps you running most of the time. You find yourself finishing one year, and then another year, and find you never have headspace to think about what will make you better’ said Vincent. ‘IMI helped me a lot with this – to give me the time to reflect and find ways to help my team improve and work more efficiently.’
‘My understanding of management and leadership was changed’ said Nebras of the impact of his experience in IMI. ‘It’s not about planning, organising, monitoring… it is about people. You achieve results with and through people.’
After returning from Ireland, Nebras implemented a 100-day programme to reimagine how he would build his team’s capacity, keep them engaged and happy through difficult circumstances, build trust with his area managers, and improve general performance across the board.
‘All of the decisions have become stronger, and all members now support the decisions being made’ said Nebras.
In Uganda, the impacts for Vincent from his Coaching for Business Results programme has also come through the people around him.
‘For someone like me who looks after around 8 managers and 24 field officers, I needed to build trust and engagement with the team’ said Vincent. ‘From simply taking the time to listen better, to knowing how to ask really strategic questions to get people thinking, it was about me developing my ability to get the best out of other people.’
Staying Put to Move Forward
When the bombs began falling in 2011, Nebras had to postpone his master’s degree studies in Finance and Business Administration. Soon after he, amongst many others, lost his job at the bank. After his family received a food package from Goal, Nebras began volunteering with GOAL before applying for a full-time position.
He had been working for GOAL for five years before going to IMI. And how did that programme affect his work?
‘I need a long time to talk about my experiences in IMI!’ said Nebras. ‘I came back to Syria from IMI with a new approach to how I work – what we are doing and how we are doing it. I’ve not just avoided making the mistakes I made in the past but also learned how to prioritise my focus in a more effective way.’
As for future plans, many other young men crossed the boarder into Turkey and then beyond, would Nebras do the same?
‘I heard from so many people here in Idlib (a town in North Syria) that without GOAL many people would have died of starvation’ said Nebras. ‘I intend to work with GOAL until the last second.’
IMI partnered with Goal in 2018 to support developing leaders within the organisation through participating in IMI programmes. The above article is based on interviews featured on IMI’s Talking Leadership podcast.