Thursday, December 23, 2010

Crisis Leaders without titles

One of the best books I read this year was The Leader Without a Title by Robin Sharma who previously has authored great books like The Monk who sold his Ferrari and The Greatness Guide. In The Leader Without a Title, Robin points out that you don’t need to have a particular title to show leadership.

Leadership is in big demand when crisis hits and often we look towards those with titles to show us that leadership. But unfortunately not everyone has the leadership qualities needed to help us get through crisis. They may have risen up through the ranks in their organizations or political parties based on other reasons than necessarily their leadership qualities.

It is however often during crisis that we see the leaders without title rise up to the occasion and do amazing things. Those are the people we often label as heroes. They don’t give up when the face difficulties. They think outside of the box. They get others to help them achieve a common goal. They are willing to learn new things rapidly to reach a target. They are passionate about their work.

I am lucky to know many such people that I have met through my work in crisis response. They are my role models when it comes to doing good. They are the people everyone wants to work with.

It is sometimes strange that as people’s titles become more important their ability to show leadership becomes less apparent. I remember during one of my first international disaster response missions, where we coordinating a joint assessment of a large flood area with the government. I had been put in charge of coordinating the assessment on behalf of the humanitarian community and I walked over to the person who had been put in charge of the entire disaster response by the government. I introduced myself and was about to provide him with information about what the humanitarian community wanted to do, but before I could he abruptly said to me “I will not talk to you. I only talk to your team leader”. Unfortunately this attitude was just a preview of his tone for the cooperation with the international community for the entire mission.

In the humanitarian world, the real heroes are the humanitarian field workers, especially the local staff. These are the people who go out amongst the affected community and give their all to help those in need. And they bend rules and they find innovative ways to do things. They also collaborate with other organizations even though at the “leadership level” in those organizations there is competition.

In an earthquake response last year in Padang, Indonesia I was fortunate enough to work with some real leaders. If you looked at their title or their pay grade you would have thought they were “nobodies”. But the truth of the matter was that these two women were leading the collaboration between the government and the international community. Without them we would not have been able to provide assistance to the government of the affected country in the manner we did. It was such a pleasure to work with them in what is considered one of the better organized humanitarian response missions of the last decade.

What we need are more people like them, not only during crisis, but in their daily job that are willing to rise to the challenge and drive leadership on a daily basis in everything they do – just think of what we could achieve!!!

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