International organisations need more effective leaders

Today the Blavatnik School of Government and the World Economic Forum publish the report ‘Effective leadership in international organisations’, which identifies best practices and solutions to improve the performance of executive heads of international organisations.

Good leadership is essential for international institutions to operate effectively – whether it’s for urgent actions like controlling pandemics or for routine agreements like ensuring mail is delivered across countries. However, too often the recruitment or nomination process is not as transparent as it could be, and the leader ends up with an undefined role, is not held accountable, and can be easily influenced.

This report examines 11 international organisations, including the World Bank and the World Health Organization, to identify the key factors that support executive heads to be effective leaders and respond successfully to the world’s challenges.

The research was carried out over 18 months by a team of six researchers based at the University of Oxford (Blavatnik School of Government and Department of Politics and International Relations) and the Hertie School of Governance, in liaison with the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Institutional Governance Systems.

Using interviews and publicly available material, the researchers identified seven indicators of effective leadership:

  1. Selecting and re-electing leadership on merit
  2. Holding the leader to account for their individual performance
  3. Setting and evaluating ethical standards of leadership
  4. Developing and retaining talent with the organisation and in particular at the leadership level
  5. Enabling the leader to set strategic priorities
  6. Engaging with a wide range of stakeholders
  7. Evaluating independently and effectively the organisation’s performance

Three key findings of the report are: 

  • Reforming leadership selection process is critical. States should search for candidates with specific, relevant competencies and test these against clearly defined criteria through an inclusive, exhaustive process.
  • States should hold executive heads to account for their individual performance. Organisations should have clear and transparent expectations of performance to facilitate leadership accountability. 
  • Leaders should comply with clearly defined ethical standards. Leaders should be obliged to disclose financial assets and conflicts of interest, and adhere to a published code of ethics.

The report comes at a critical time: states will select a new Secretary General for the United Nations in 2016. States in the General Assembly are currently debating how to reform the selection process and, spurred by the “1 for 7 billion” campaign, there is widespread demand for a more open and transparent process.

Dean Ngaire Woods, who was project leader for the report, said: “Good leadership in international organisations could make a huge difference in the way issues such as climate change and poverty reduction are tackled. It’s vital that leaders are chosen and operate within a clear, independent and transparent process - with this report we highlight the best practices across institutions that can help achieve that.”

The report can be downloaded at the link below.

A series of events has been planned to present the report - more information can be found by clicking on the links.