Leading International Disaster Recovery Teams - It's all About Ambiguity

September 28, 2020

Leading disaster international disaster recovery teams:

In this conversation, you’ll hear about the rewards as well as the challenges of leading disaster recovery in international settings. John is a natural narrator of stories, and he peppers his conversation with some interesting experiences that are way off the beaten track.

John's Australian insights into leading in Queensland Fire & Emergency Services 

  • Insights into the challenges associated with cultural change in large Government Agencies
  • The challenge for leadership in large Government Agencies of maintaining relevance to community while evolving in step with emerging technology.
  • At some level, in large agencies where staff turnover is very low, there is a level of ‘artificial reinvigoration and influence’ of the cultural journey. This is necessary to offset the absence of frequent input of new people from the churn of new people and ideas through that you might experience in the Corporate sector. 
  • As people in move into Senior levels of Management in Fire and Emergency Services they face the additional complexities.
  • At this level leadership decision-making is about bringing the social, cultural and technical aspects of emergency management and response across large scale disasters all together to formulate the response.
  • This is a significant shift from managing isolated emergency incidents.  They are now faced with the complexities associated with natural disasters, involving interdependencies, and the need for much greater coordination with the public and private sectors involved.

John's International leadership takeaways for those considering pursuing a career in this space:

  • Ambiguity: To be effective in these very highly visible, tense and complex scenarios, you must be comfortable with ambiguity.
  • If ambiguity makes you uncomfortable, a career in international disaster recovery will not be a good fit for you.
  • Hand in Hand with ambiguity is a high level of emotional intelligence, curiosity about, and acceptance of, other people, their cultures and lifestyles.
  • Emotional Intelligence:  As foreign rescuers - you are guests of that country. Therefore you must have sufficiently developed self-awareness and emotional intelligence to be able to demonstrate respect for local customs, particularly under pressure.
  • Be Curious:  Demonstrate your desire to learn, to volunteer and to contribute to disaster recovery at a local level.
  • Seek opportunities to volunteer with an organisation like Red Cross or other NGOs on overseas disaster recovery deployments.
  • Build a reputation for being, keen, trusted, a strategic thinker, collaborative, hard-working and emotionally intelligent.

John's takeaways for a successful leadership learning journey

  • Secure informal and formal mentors early in your career.
  • Be ready to fail, learn, fail, learn.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Collaborate and respect all views. Understand that your view is just one view.