Leadership Lessons from Gilles Rivard, Former Ambassador to Haiti - Institute on Governance

Leadership Lessons from Gilles Rivard, Former Ambassador to Haiti

4 minute read

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Continuing our ongoing coverage of the IOG’s webcast series, Leading Through COVID-19 #leadingthroughC19, on April 30th, IOG President Toby Fyfe interviewed Gilles Rivard, a retired foreign service officer who held a number of ambassadorial positions throughout his career.

M. Rivard was Ambassador to Haiti in 2010 when the earthquake hit, and he had to lead his team effectively in order to deal with the aftermath of this crisis, which included managing the evacuation of 6,400 people and assisting in the aid Canada delivered.

For a more detailed version of the events in Haiti from the 2010 earthquake, we recommend watching the webcast, in which M. Rivard speaks to his real, on-the-ground experience: how he ensured his team’s safety; how were the evacuations handled; the role and influence of Ottawa; what was it like working with other governments and NGOs.

In addition to telling his personal story of the events that unfolded in 2010, M. Rivard also offered key leadership lessons when leading a team during a crisis.

He focused on the value of honest and direct communication with your team when handling a crisis. “When you manage a team in a crisis, you have to communicate, and you have to share the good news and the bad news.” He continued, “You have to establish trust so that you’re going to be able to make some mileage together in dealing with the crisis — that’s the key.”

He stressed that the team will be looking to its leader to see his or her reaction, “they are looking at you very carefully — even if you feel a lot of stress, it’s not that you cannot share that with them, but they need to feel that you are in control of the situation.”

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A focus on the personal aspect of the team was also present during M. Rivard’s discussion with the IOG. He mentioned the importance of prioritizing people first — “when you ask your people in a situation like that to do something, you have to make sure that these people know that their family is safe first, and this is the most important thing, because if you don’t secure their family they will never be able to focus a hundred percent on the situation.”

This same focus can also be applied to the current Covid-19 crisis. He continued, “I think it’s a very good recipe for long-term success, because a crisis like this is not a sprint — it’s a marathon, and if you start running hard, you will never see the end of it.”

He continued, comparing the two crises, “…it’s exactly the same thing with the pandemic at this moment — it’s not a crisis that can be fixed within two days, it takes six weeks at least to evacuate all the people that need to be evacuated, so you have to take time to rest.”

In closing, M. Rivard shared some key leadership lessons for our listeners to ponder:

  • Take your time to rest – tell your people to rest.
  • The safety, security and mental health of your team should be your top priority.
  • Use your resources – get the support you need.
  • Trust your people to do their job right – delegation is essential.
  • Take your time to breathe, relax.
  • Listen to the needs of your team early and often.

Thank you to Gilles Rivard for joining us on the Leading Through COVID-19 Webcast. Join us every Thursday at 12:30PM EST as we talk with Leaders from across Canada.

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This webcast series is brought to you with the support of SAS. Together, we can make a difference with passion, expertise and technology. Click here to learn more about SAS COVID-19 Response in this resource hub.

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