International Workshop on Substance Abuse

Reflections by Anne Babb, General Secretary of the International Blue Cross

In November 2013, the International Blue Cross held a high-level, international sharing and learning workshop on evidence based and best practices in prevention and treatment of substance abuse on the one hand, and, on the other hand, on best practices in leadership and management of non profit organisations. Anne Babb, General Secretary of the International Blue Cross, shares below some reflections on "leadership and life-skills" inspired by the event.

Life-skills and Good Leadership

As leaders we are constantly assessed by people we are in contact with. We are in a position of power, and people want to see that we have the skills to make use of this position in a fruitful way. The questions that come to my mind are: How do we develop our skills during our busy management life? Is there a danger that we lack some skills?

I have just returned from a workshop in Namibia where leaders and practitioners from over 30 countries gathered to discuss some organisational key themes. This contribution is a reflection on “life skills” – as one of the key services delivered in many Blue Cross organisations around the world, aiming to help young people develop skills to avoid substance abuse. The workshop made me reflect on how these skills are transferrable to our everyday life as leaders.

How have I developed my interpersonal skills to lead my staff and to interact with people in various situations? What has shaped my values so that they are sound and based on Christian ethics? How have I acquired the problem solving and decision making skills that take my organisation forward in a positive direction? Where have I developed the confidence to take up my role as a leader?

I think these skills cannot be fully learned through academic study or professional training. It needs practice, learning by doing, reflecting and even learning from mistakes. It takes courage to put yourself in line and stretch to edges of our familiar comfort zone. Life skills interventions teach essential knowledge and understanding, skills and attitudes to deal effectively with the everyday challenges we face throughout our lives. Such interventions focus on positive behaviour and promoting the health and well-being of children, adolescents and adults alike. Some of these skills are inherent while many we learn from our family, friends or society.

When I recruit staff I often receive applications for people with very similar educational background. The challenge is to find employees who are committed, have skills for effective communication, right values, positive attitude towards work and skills to create positive relationships at the work place. This is often the deciding factor- what kind of life skills they are able to present to others.

I face the same challenge for myself. I need to maintain and further develop my life skills to manage the International Blue Cross in changing situations. I have started to think that senior managers need to pay a lot of attention to their life skills, otherwise the organisation lacks networking, communication, good people management, and the important issues are not dealt with.

Leading people needs good self-confidence; you need to trust that different people can achieve the same results through different ways. At the same time you need the skills for assertiveness to intervene positively when necessary. You need to be able to make decisions considering the bigger picture rather than quick fix easy solutions. It is important to be able to think creatively to find solutions for sudden or complex situations. In all of these processes you need to be self aware so that as a leader you remember that you are representing the organisation and sometimes it means that decisions that you make are not always beneficial to yourself. You need empathy to be able to listen, by seeking understanding when listening to others. Then there is the important side of being able to look after yourself. When you are committed to your work there is a danger that you do not want to be aware of issues that create stress and therefore in a long run you might burn out. A healthy work-life balance is important but also the understanding of the capacity of the organisation. Leaders need to know when there is the need to work the extra hours and when it is appropriate to rest. They need to know when the team can stretch a little and when it is time to settle and run more routine operations. Positive communication and conflict resolution skills need a lot of attention in leadership positions and I believe that these issues become more and more important and these skills need a lifelong learning and reflection process – constantly accepting that we can always learn more in these fields.

Life skills are expressed through values, knowledge, and capabilities and I want to challenge us to reflect on which life skills I should pay more attention to in order to work in my position as a leader even more effectively. I need to be responsible for my skills and seek support when I am working within a field where I am less skilled. Please click here to find a list with examples of life-skills, and you might want to reflect on what kind of skills you have in these areas?

It is Advent Season and time to prepare for Christmas. We can start afresh every day and prepare to learn something new. Let’s keep learning skills for life!