“There are two types of leadership: positional leadership and leadership without authority,” said Peter Baines, this year’s conference key-note speaker. “True leaders are identified by their actions and reactions. It’s people who have ability rather than authority who are the leaders in times of crisis.”
Although somewhat untraditional, the key-note speaker appeared first on the agenda to deliver his message that “leadership matters” and set the tone for the days that followed. Baines spoke about what it takes to be a powerful leader and how to maintain clarity of purpose in difficult situations.
An expert in forensic science from Australia with 22 years experience with the New South Wales Police, Baines was tasked with taking the lead on the victim identification response after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in Thailand and several other major international events. He has also worked with Interpol and the UN Office of Drug and Crime in a capability-building role. Through his experience in tough situations, he has learned how important leadership really is.
“Working in these areas,” he said. “There is only so much contingency planning you can do – because the challenges are so unique, we need to meet them as they come up. We talk about command and control, but when you turn up to an incident and there are 400 forensic police from 36 countries, who’s in control? In emergencies, people die because of lack of leadership.”
He spoke of the importance of teamwork and of valuing the contributions of every member of the team, saying that “building powerful teams and building them quickly and with integrity” is the single most important element in handling crisis situations. To lead powerful teams, he said, you need to be present and be seen by the people you’re leading.
“If we’re going to motivate people, if we want to inspire a team and lead a team, we’ve got to understand what’s important to them and what really turns them on,” he said. “And when we buy into that with honesty and integrity, then we can achieve amazing things.
“If you think about someone in your organisation that doesn’t contribute in a highly technical way to the process, think about what happens if we don’t value them and their contribution. Take them out of the process and see what happens.”
Much of his presentation was spent describing the destruction and damage of catastrophic events, but he made it clear that “leadership is not just about disasters and crises, those things are just the testing ground.
“When you do get tested or come up against a particularly hard day working in these environments, you have to understand why you do what you do. You have to maintain your clarity of purpose.”
In closing, he encouraged delegates to talk to one another, share ideas, and ask for assistance. “So many of you would be undergoing challenges which you think are unique, but so many answers to those challenges sit within the room,” he said, before leaving the conference with the final thought: “Enjoy what you do or change what you do because we only get one go. Seriously, we only get one go.”
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