As a relatively small team passionately committed to delivering excellence within a massive bureaucratic organization, nearly every day was greeted with an unexpected challenge. In addition to their routine administrative and strategic tasks, leaders faced the continuous attack on the morale of a workforce tiring of pushing a boulder uphill. They had signed on with a clear understanding of the agency mission but the constant disruption of crisis-level interruptions took a daily toll. In this environment, sustaining engagement required a constant reminder of the underlying purpose for doing humanitarian work.
Acknowledging this norm was liberating. The team’s best chance for sustainability was to recruit for resilience. Workers of otherwise equal talent are quickly differentiated by their passion for conflict and change. Some are wired to seek sameness while others are built to adapt. A team stocked with nimble, adaptable, flexible talent would be most likely to stay poised under pressure.
Not everyone can do every job. Magic unfolds when the right people are plugged into the right roles in a workplace culture that aligns with their purpose. This makes the leader’s job simple: anchor the mission, model accountability, endorse creativity, embrace change, reinvest in new circumstances, repeat.