The ABBL's Chairman's Dinner took place yesterday. Runa Khan, CEO and Founder of Friendship NGO, gave an inspiring speech on leadership in times of crisis. What are the similarities between the situation of an NGO in Bangladesh and that of banks in Luxembourg when faced with crises? How do you prepare for the unexpected? Here are a few extracts.

The similarities between the situation of an NGO in Bangladesh and that of banks in Luxembourg when dealing with crises

"I reflect on the commonalities rather than the different worlds we are speaking of. Perhaps the link is similarity of actions taken, real human reactions - be it for any crises. The intersection between entrepreneurship, innovation and crises is the same."

Preparing for the unpredictable

"Changes are coming - inevitable!"

"Dealing with crises is incorporated in our way of life, every plan, every action. Total unpredictability of time, type, volume."

"As a leader I did not know, of course, what will happen? But I needed to foresee, what may happen."

"Strength and resilience come from preparedness." 

"Preparing for unpredictability is not easy – therefore it’s important that processes during or after a crisis emerging out of foresight, kindness, and justice of what is right amongst your stakeholders, start much earlier than immediate actions." 

The importance of trust in dealing a crisis

"Strength of leadership plays a big role for long term dependable reactions during these times. For earning enough respect of the staff and stakeholders, resulting in their trust in you, listening to your organizational decision without hesitation - the story needs to start years earlier…."

"Reciprocity of trust is critical in a crisis!"

"Empathy is what guides a leader to prioritise issues without the involvement of the I. That is critical also in any crises for trust."

"Trust, within the community, is like a spark igniting reciprocity – if our staff trusted us, the people whose lives they touched would trust them and us." 


The importance of values and purpose

"Keeping in mind that there will be a call in our world for tough decisions; from day 1, we work deeply with soft skills, which I feel are actually the hardest skills : the core values of Friendship-Integrity, dignity, justice, quality and hope. 

Imbuing the internalising of these values by all, from the leaders to the simple boatman, to all stakeholders we work with…. Working with a sense of the core purpose and deep justice, tough decisions can be taken seamlessly, without creating agitation around you."

The importance of having a clear vision

"Dealing with crises needs clear vision of what is right and just, for any organization, from day 1. Pathways can, may, maybe, be changed – but mission drift should not be accepted just because tools get difficult. Tools are flexible changeable – but vision and mission are not."

The necessity of giving autonomy to your staff

"When storms will come - it takes 14 hrs to reach the ships. Phones do not work. No regulations within HR systems should be made, taking away individual capacity for decision and action. Safety can be ensured by quick reflex, experienced reactivity only." 

"When a storm starts, management of the process for its safety cannot be decided by those who are not there…  Protocols are for regular work – building character, and thus autonomy of action amongst the trusted staff is for emergencies."

"What can be calculated, predicted - can be systemized. Unpredictability of the crises and human behaviour during a crisis - is the key difficulty – understanding this, identifying ability, imbuing the sense of autonomous responsibility and giving them the sense of not fearing to make a decision is a pathway - to save the ships."

"Thus Leaders must also give planned autonomy but only as much as they can absorb the mistakes made in the process by the people." 

"No one can do everything by themselves, and innovation, new ideas, pride in their jobs, will be stagnated if people cannot work without a certain amount of independence. In a world which needs constant agility of mind and actions and bettering of quality – if this is killed - the organization will slowly be redundant."  

The loneliness of the leader when facing tough decisions:

"Leadership is also learning to absorb loneliness. In our environment, crises of climate or politics or economy are a daily choir. Not everyone can understand actions I take today, for the coming tomorrow."

"A tough decision has to be mine and for my conscience my responsibility and my pain". 


The ABBL expressed its deep gratitude for Runa Khan's intervention and respect for her teams' work by a donation of 7,500 EUR to Friendship International.