Leading Change in United Nations Organizations

July 10, 2019

By: Catherine Bertini, Distinguished Fellow, Global Food and Agriculture

This paper provides food for thought for incoming senior officials of the United Nations on a range of issues related to leading their organizations and embarking on organizational change.  The transition to UN leadership, especially by the many agency executive heads who come to the United Nations from outside the system, is extremely critical, and these incoming senior leaders need to quickly understand their agency, its mission, its staff, its place within the larger UN and NGO ecosystem, and whether change is needed to improve the functioning of the agency.

However, the United Nations and individual agencies provide little, if any, transition assistance for incoming executive heads.  There is also little guidance and information provided to agency heads in leading transformational organizational change.  Given the immense issues facing incoming leaders— including the internal pressures of running a large, multinational, political organization and external pressures from geopolitical shifts, poverty, war, strife, natural disasters, climate change— strong, creative, and risk-taking leadership is necessary for success.

This paper provides guidance for new leaders through various stages of the early days of UN leadership; from preparations made upon appointment to the position to the first 100 days in office and finally through the assessment, planning, and implementation of transformational organizational change.  It was written with input from many former and current senior UN leaders in hopes of providing valuable advice, insight, and lessons learned that can be used by new leaders as they embark on their challenging and rewarding mission to change lives and change the world.

Leading Change in United Nations Organizations

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