“When it comes to UN mission leadership, good is not good enough. Mission leaders are entrusted with significant responsibilities. Much can be at stake – peace, security, a country’s development – and this must be reflected in what is expected of mission leaders. Leadership ability, both individually and as a team, is broadly recognized as a critical factor determining the success or failure of a mission.”
- Jean-Pierre Lacroix, USG Department for Peace Operations, United Nations

Peace operations are about facilitating and ensuring non-violent self-determination, preventing further conflict and sustaining peace. Sustainable peace requires political solutions—it cannot be achieved through military and technical engagements alone. This is why political solutions must guide all UN peace operations.

A peace operation signals the political engagement of the international community. The scope of this engagement is much wider than the mission leadership team (MLT) – it extends to the complex web of actors working within the mission area and the host country, as well as neighbouring states, regional and international organizations and interested UN Member States, including troop- and police-contributing countries.

The overall task is almost overwhelming in terms of its breadth, importance and meaning – and yet this is perhaps the greatest source of inspiration for a mission’s leader.

MLT engagement can never be a mechanistic process but is, instead, a skilled articulation of refined political judgement. Nevertheless, the study recognizes that this judgement can be better informed by knowledge of best practices and some generic considerations.

At the same time, peace operations are just one part of a larger international effort in a host country’s transformation from conflict to peace. Mission leaders are therefore assisting in changing a country’s history, in close cooperation with its people and on behalf of the UN. This is a responsibility that requires highly developed leadership qualities.

Effective and inclusive leadership is a critical factor in the success of peace operations. Nevertheless, this insight has proved difficult to operationalize and hard to implement in practice. Peace operations are complex, and leadership is not easy.

Balancing the two has proved a challenge for the international community. Fortunately, there have been many successful and inspiring examples of mission leadership. In addition, patterns of best practice are identifiable beyond the manifold mission-specific circumstances.

Contemporary UN peace operations require imaginative and dedicated leadership grounded in integrity and competence. UN Security Council mandates are now broader and are often more demanding as the functions of peacekeeping, peace enforcement and peacebuilding become increasingly intertwined and mutually supportive.

Mission leadership is also about developing a strong relationship with national counterparts, coalescing the international community’s support and efforts on the ground and, most critically, facilitating change. These trends have placed greater demands on mission leaders, requiring MLTs to be better prepared, resourced and accountable for their actions.

Mission leadership needs to be exercised by the MLT at the country level, and by Heads of Offices and Sector Commanders at the subnational level. Good UN leadership reflects the multifaceted character of peace operations and their political foundation; the hazardous environment; the ever-changing interests and agendas and their complexity and width; the high stakes; and the large number of dynamic and external factors.

Senior leaders in peace operations need to be proven and capable leaders from the outset. Exercising leadership in peace operations cannot be about on-the-job training. It is, however, to a large degree about on-the-job learning.

Successful mission leaders are open-minded, curious and flexible, and facilitate an environment conducive to continuous and adaptive learning throughout the mission and the duration of its mandate.

 

Essence of Leadership

 

The UN system leadership framework outlines eight defining characteristics of UN leadership:

 

The political process in any country is complicated by contending pressures and actors. The mission leadership will have to continually manage the expectations of the various actors involved in the process, and indeed the entire population. Accordingly, the consent of the parties for mandate implementation can never be taken for granted. The impact of spoilers should also be considered. Perhaps more than in any other aspect of the mission’s mandate, and owing to the centrality of the political process, the mission leadership should continually reassess and adjust every decision against the peacekeeping principles of impartiality, the non-use of force except in self-defence or defence of the mandate, legitimacy, credibility and the promotion of national and local ownership. At the same time, the mission must monitor consent at all levels – including the working and local levels – with great political sensitivity to ensure that the mandate is being properly implemented and that possible breakdowns in consent are anticipated and addressed.

The mission leadership team (MLT) will reflect numerous concepts and cultures of leadership. Correctly approached and cultivated, this diversity will be an obvious strength for both the MLT and the mission as a whole. It is important to invest in developing and forging a professional, inclusive, committed, dynamic and enduring team. All peace operations generate continuous challenges, surprises and frictions for their leaders, and these need to be tackled and overcome as a team. For the MLT to work well together, its individual members must first demonstrate inter-cultural competence.

Teambuilding should be prioritized, planned and creative. Small and recurring efforts count. The focus should not just be on formal and scheduled occasions, but also on building the team a little every day, and in every encounter within the MLT.

The exact composition of the MLT will vary depending on the specific type of mission and its requirements. Integrated and multidimensional missions are typically led by the Head of Mission (HoM) or Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG). This core team consists of the Deputy SRSG (Political); the Deputy SRSG-Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator (DSRSG-RC/HC); the Force Commander (FC), the Police Commissioner (PC); the mission’s Chief of Staff and the Director or Chief of Mission Support. It is very often reinforced by other section heads such as Human Rights, Gender, Strategic Communications and Security.

Whatever the chosen format, the MLT is responsible, at the operational level, for implementing the mission’s mandate through the coordinated planning and execution of the many tasks required to achieve the strategic end state – that is, the mission’s overarching vision. To achieve this vision, each MLT member must understand their individual role and responsibilities.

Head of Police

• Operational command and control over all UN police personnel and units in the mission
• Responsible for establishing the police chain of command

Deputy SRSG/RC/HC

• Primary interface between the mission and the UN Country Team and Humanitarian Country Team
• Responsible for the planning and coordination of humanitarian and development activities, and for maintaining close contact and cooperation with all relevant agencies.

Chief of Staff (COS)

• Responsible for the coherent and efficient management of the integrated mission across all organizational units
• Supports the SRSG in executing his/her management and control functions to fulfil the mission’s mandate
• Ensures the coordinated running of the mission’s control structures to allow the MLT to make informed decisions and adapt effectively to changing contexts

Head of Military

• Responsible for the deployment, control and command of all UN military personnel and units across the mission
• Responsible for establishing the military chain of command

Director/Chief of Mission Support (DMS/CMS)

• Ensures the provision of support to all mission units, including undisrupted supply chains and resource management
• Key advisor to the MLT concerning financial resource management in support of the mission’s mandate

Deputy SRSG

• Responsible for supporting the HOM in strategic political engagement
• Provides leadership in the planning and implementation of the mission mandate

Special Representative of the Secretary-General or Head of Mission (SRSG/HOM)

Depending on the mandate, the role of the HoM can be seen on three levels:
• Lead political representative of the international community through the mandated authority of the Security Council and the Secretary-General. The HOM thus also provides political and strategic direction to the MLT
• Head of the UN peacekeeping operation and responsible for all of its mandated activities as well as the management of the mission’s resources.
• Coordinator of all UN activities and programmes beyond the peacekeeping and political/security tasks.

Civilian leaders provide the general and political direction and set mission-level strategic objectives. The uniformed components plan and execute their operational contributions in order to achieve those ends. At the same time, it is important for the uniformed components to be conscious of the dynamics of political priorities and considerations, and to understand that these are not always compatible with preferred operational practices and options. Uniformed leaders need to be sensitive and imaginative within their professional domains and identify ways for the military and police instruments to sustain the political process. In essence, they need to be officers with acute political and diplomatic antennae.

Developing the capacity to lead, then, is about developing the collective level and capacity to produce shared results, whereby everyone engaged must and does fill a leading role in some fashion. Given this, it may also be useful to clarify some aspects that are core to this study. The competing issues which need engagement by senior leaders are sometimes technical in nature, requiring ‘either/or’ technical solutions. More often they are ever-present tensions or polarities that require shared ‘both/and’ attention.