Leading in Times of Turbulence

Cambridge, MA –  I have been thinking a lot about leadership over the past few weeks as I begin my role as the CEO of Save the Children. Yesterday I spoke at the Hauser Center at Harvard to a group of students who came from several different schools around campus.  The discussion was about leading in times of change and crisis and especially about being a brand new leader in these turbulent times.


The night before my talk, as I was preparing, I asked my twitter followers, ” what do you think is most needed from leaders in changing times?”  I got some great answers including focus, diligence, compassion, and honesty, among others.  Most of the comments circled around what I would call authenticity, which I agree is so important for a leader always but particularly in times of change and stress, when you need your true self to be what people see.


I focused on some of the issues of change Save the Children is facing, both inside our global Save the Children family and from the outside world.


Inside the organization, as we try to build a true global movement for children, we face the challenge of moving 29 Save the Children’s working in 120 countries all down the same path for children.  As you can imagine 29 cultures are not always easy to meld and of course we all have our ideas about the best way to do things.  I have found that the single biggest thing to successfully drive this process inside Save the Children is to always bring things back to the mission that we have for children.  To achieve breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to make lasting change in their lives through our work – that’s why people come to Save the Children and it is what I consistently talk and think about in my new role.


In the wider world, change is happening at a speed which makes it hard to keep up and this issue of focus becomes incredibly important.  Grounding people back to a few key priorities and making sure the whole leadership team in the organization is doing the same is something that is critical, especially in large and complex organizations like ours.


There are two things I touched on yesterday that I think will be particularly important for Save the Children in the coming years and which I will lead.  The first is in driving partnerships of every type – between ourselves and other NGO’s, between governments, between the UN and multi-lateral organizations like the World Bank, and between corporations and all of the above.  The issues we are working on for children are just too big for us to ever solve ourselves and we need to get more of us pulling in the same direction for children.  To do that though, we need to be a more open organization that gives as well as it gets.


Secondly, we need to use technology and especially social media, to get more people engaged and active in the issues we care about and the work we do for kids.  Using technology to engage millions of people in what we do, even if they can’t go to the refugee camps in Kenya or to help families devastated by the wild fires in Texas, can really change things in a many multiplied way.


In the vein of leveraging technology, I hope you might share with me your own thoughts – what does it take to lead in times of great change?  What have you seen leaders you want to follow do to instill that confidence and trust, despite the fact that the world might be in crisis?  And what are your ideas about things that organizations like Save the Children should do in today’s times?  I am convinced that the ideas of all of us will turn out to be better for children than the ideas of a few!