Assignment: leadership in difficult situations

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency Sida wants to increase their ability to reach the most vulnerable, and are planning to increase their presence in conflict settings. In 2020, Sida launched an internal training programme with the aim of improving the ability of employees to work in conflict and post-conflict settings or places with increased security challenges. Within that programme, Sida has contracted Johan Mast Consulting AB to provide the participants with an in-depth training on self-leadership and leadership in difficult situations.

The seminar series is tailor-made in dialogue with the participants, and will to a great extent build on discussions and realistic scenarios. The series will – among other topics – focus on:

  • basic theory on risk, organisation, leadership and motivation
  • basic risk and threat assessment
  • coping with stress and high pressure
  • norms, culture and behaviour in relation to risk and leadership
  • values ad rules when managing difficult situations
  • making decisions when facing the unknown
  • formal and informal management levels
  • basic crisis organisation

We put emphasis on creating reflection in the group and based on the experiences of the participants contribute to an increased self-understanding. The seminar series aims to increase the participant’s own understanding of the challenges and reactions she or he might face when working in difficult contexts, and increase their ability to lead and decide in difficult situations.

Get in touch if you want to know more about or bespoke training solutions!


Identity and violence in humanitarian work

In which way does your identity – who you are – influence the likelihood and consequence of different threats while working abroad? Within the humanitarian world, the topic of identity related threats has generally been neglected, often explained with the lack of objective facts or statistics. The sex, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc. of employees has in most cases not influenced the risk assessments made by organisations, but the risks have rather been seen as general. It has been easier to focus on apparent threats with an external offender, such as kidnappings, car-jackings or air raids – concrete threats that affect the role of an aid worker rather than the identity behind.

In the quite recent Aid Worker Security Report 2019 from Humanitarian Outcomes they raise sexual violence and gender based risks as prioritised topics. The report concludes that there is still a big knowledge-gap in terms of data and statistics, but they have nevertheless done an in-depth analysis of their own database as well as interviewed a number of security advisors from different organisations.

8% of total female victims have been exposed to sexual violence. There is also a probability that some of the 30% encoded as “kidnapped” also has had to endure sexual violence.

The report clearly shows the need for including sexual violence and harassment in the general risk assessments made by employers, and that it also is a topic which needs to be included in high risk trainings for deployed staff.

Address normalisation

In a recent study researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden, assessed to which rate their students had experienced sexual offences and harassments while commuting in Stockholm. The study shows that nearly half of the female students had been verbally or physically harassed. The report suggets three main actions to be made:

  1. Proper mapping (i.e. coding in an incident database) to be able to know what happens and where, to be able to work preventatively;
  2. Counter normalisation so that survivors as well as offenders know what constitutes harassment
  3. Service providers and the police need to take the threat seriously and ensure that actions are taken, otherwise those targeted will stop reporting.

Humanitarian Outcomes recommends similar actions, supported by other studies and reports[1]. They address sexual violence, but identify organisational kulturs as the cause. A culture which permits perpetrators to work and remain there even after having committed offences. They suggest changing cultures, but also training employees in methods such as active bystander or bystander intervention i.e. how a colleague and/or person at risk can identify risk behaviour and what can be done to interfere and stop a potential incident in time.

Include and train

That identity influences the risk is to me obvious and something I have experienced and observed countless times in Sweden and abroad.

Employees need to include identity as a factor in their risk assessments. They also need a solid and robust organisation to manage these types of incidents when they do occur. But most importantly – and also in order to be able to manage the incidents properly – they need to actively work to create a culture which does not permit sexual violence and other forms of harassment. Creating this type of culture takes time, but it is not impossible.

Likewise, the training institutions need to find ways to tackle the question of identity and threats and create a space for reflection around identity and roles, without exposing the participants to traumatic events.

[1] European Interagency Forum, Feinstein International Centre has over the past few years released studies and reports within the area of risk and gender involving international aid workers


New exercise platform

During the first half of 2019 we have developed and tested a new platform for realistic crisis exercises. The platform enables the exercise team to communicate with the crisis organisation and publish news and events both in social and traditional media.

JM Exercise Platform is easy to use and creates a realistic environment for the practised organisation. The platform can be adapted to advanced and complex situations such as kidnappnings or system collapses, but also to smaller exercises where the client desires to test a specific event.

Get in touch with if you want to find out more!


Who supports the boss?

Being a manager is supposed to be fun, rewarding and inspiring. You want to feel the flow, that you are in control of progress and that you enable your co-workers to reach their objectives. You want to be there to offload, support and guide. But who supports the manager?

After several years of working as a manager in Swedish and international organisations — small and large, private and governmental and at both board and executive level — I have developed a well functioning methodology for management support. The past year I have supported managers and teams in Sweden, Nigeria and Uganda and am now opening up for more people and groups to access this service.

I give you the opportunity to have time to reflect over your role, your challenges and your options ahead. I design a tailor-made program where the basic foundation is individual talks — using online video or physical meetings — and concrete tasks based on your needs and wishes. My objective is to strenghten you as a leader, and help you finding new solutions in order to better and faster reach your objectives.

”Clearly sees the one looking from a distance — foggy the one caught by the details”

Today we are overwhelmed by the speed and complexity of information and constant changes, drawing attention to details which often veil the important questions. As an external support not affected by the day-to-day challenges you face, I will ask both the easy and complex questions, and I help you to structure your thoughts and find your priorities. Our discussions are confidential and I am there to offload, support and guide you in your role as a manager. Our meetings are a sanctuary for your thoughts.

Running management support

This is where we lift the leadership development to new levels. I think better when I run. Thoughts are easier to define and get hold of, they get more clear and precise after a few kilometers in the forest or along a path somewhere. In this setup we bring one or serveral of our meetings to a jog. You bring your problems, thoughts, challenges and together we break them out while strengthening our health. The jog is based on your conditions and ability.

In order to know more about the management support, send me a message or give me a call through [skype-status skype_id=”johanmast” user_name=”Johan Mast” button_function=”call” use_voicemail=”off”]


Answers looking for questions

Early December I was contacted by a research leader at Makerere University in Kampala. Despite the University having been closed by the President of Uganda a few months earlier – due to a student strike which in turn was due to a lecturers strike which in turn was due to no incentives having been paid for several months – there were a few people continuing to struggle with projects and achievements under the academic umbrella. This group of researchers needed assistance with navigating between two major ongoing projects in maternal, newborn and child health. The needs were big and the resources few, so I agreed to make a free-of-charge objective analysis session with both of their project teams an early Monday morning in December. It was very intersting and exciting to dive into both of these project groups, where one of the challenges was to reach out with academic messages to an often non-academic audience, and another to find the balance between research needs and funding willingness.

As often, groups like these carry most of the answers, but sometimes struggle to identify the questions. Which is where I came into the picture. After a couple of hours of discussion and challenging questions, the participants shared that they had a better grasp of their direction for the coming year, and their priorities ahead more clear. It was fascinating and very fun to be part and challenge these teams!


Cancel the meetings, shut down the e-mail!

Switch off!

It has been a few years by now. In 2012 Wolkswagen shut down their e-mail servers in Germany after office hours. You weren’t supposed to e-mail each other between 6 in the evening and 7 in the morning. Atos, the French IT company, went a few steps further when they introduced a no e-mail policy and within a few years managed to reduce the amount of internal e-mails with 60%. During the spring of 2016 there have been reports that the authorities in France want to legislate for the right to be disconnected. All initiatives of different ways to manage time thiefs, helping to improve prioritisation and in the end improve the well being of staff and thereby reach better results (as if that would be more important than healthy staff). I am attracted by these ideas, even though the solution I believe should not always be spelled prohibitions and limitations.

Still, how many don’t recognise themselves in having a never-ending mailbox of unfinished business and not-yet-completed tasks? Or who have been stuck in a seemingly eternal staff meeting which dwells on everything but the issues that help me to resolve my work tasks (“when will this meeting end, so I can get back to working”)? We are expected to work longer, more and faster. And pick up the kids in school and prepare food. Naturally we need to do some physical exercise and preferably have time left for some self-fulfilling hobbies on the side.

Meetings, meetings and meetings

When I worked as General Director at Médecins Sans Frontières in Sweden we conducted a couple of surveys to try to figure out what the managers spent their time doing and what the management team meetings looked like.

In 2011, a few months after assuming the position, I spent 41% of my time in meetings, 20% in various administrative tasks, 14% on strategy and 6% on e-mail. I wasn’t satisfied with this. Far too much time was spent on issues other than the core business and strategic matters. In an organisation that wanted to double its income from 250 to 500 million Swedish crowns in five years, it would require a completely different distribution of time. One component in this equation was already a given: my own time. I had eight hours per day to manage the work and set a target to not work overtime. Both because I wanted to be able to last throughout the assignment, but also to send a signal to my colleagues that I did not recommend anyone sacrificing their own health to work.

In the management team (MT) meetings, we noticed that we only spent 30% of our time on issues around the core business. The rest was spent on administration, organisational matters and such. These figures confirmed our feeling that we spent a lot of time on the wrong things.

The change

We decided to change the meetings. We shortened them, removed all administrative issues to another forum and through various tricks instead focused on the core business. One year later we had reduced the number of MT meetings from 43 to 23 in a year, and halved the time each of us spent in meetings (only this freed the equivalent to 40 working days per year to other work), and we only spent 9% of our time on administrative issues compared to mot 55% the year before.arbetstid_diagram

For my own part these changes, in combination with better methods for prioritising, to a much better distribution with 35% of my time in meetings, 30% on strategy, 7% on administration and 6% on e-mail.

Free up time!

A good question to ask the person who perhaps by default invites you to all kinds of meetings is: what do you want me to contribute with? More often than not the person calling the meeting realises that perhaps all those invited wouldn’t need to participate…

I believe many work places would do well by reflecting on what they spend their time, and how many of the meetings and e-mail messages that could simply be removed without actually risking the business, but perhaps the opposite – improve the business, free up time and improve the wellbeing of the employees.


Crisis preparedness at MSB

MSB, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, is a governmental agency responsible for issues concerning civil protection, public safety, emergency management and civil defence in Sweden. I was asked to help them strenghten parts of their own internal crisis preparedness, something I carried out during winter and spring 2015/16. I assisted in developing a policy and trained and practiced the staff. The work consisted of a close analysis of the needs, and the actions were developed in discussion with various stake holders within the agency. The ensuing training and exercise was tailor made after their internal needs.

Henrik Jemtelius, security advisor at MSB said:

”We have hired Johan Mast Consulting AB to help MSB strenghten its crisis management capacity. They have in a very good way contributed to increasing this ability, primarily through their thourough analysis of the MSB organisation and the way we work and function. This, together with the real competence and experience of Johan Mast Consulting in crisis management has ensured a good result. Additionaly, the work has been characterised by attentiveness, precision and good personal relations.”

The exercise and training was conducted together with Mats Bohman from Practise AB.