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Leadership lessons from a peacekeeper

Byron Connolly | July 29, 2014
Former Australian soldier Matina Jewell knows a thing or two about leading a team. She shared her experiences as a United Nations peacekeeper during the 2006 Lebanon War with attendees at this year's CIO Summit.

The huge delay also meant that the convoy had exhausted the time it was allocated to by the UN and Israel to get to Tyre.

"I got into a situation where I had exhausted every road on my map and I still hadn't managed to get to the city of Tyre let alone reach the UN compound," Jewell said.

Thankfully Jewell had learnt to speak Arabic before being deployed on this mission. This meant she could meet with mayors in towns and villages in Syria and Lebanon.

"As a white women, I would never have been invited into the room let alone sit at the table alongside the men had it not been for that language skill. This made me a better operator on a day-to-day basis but more importantly, it also plays a significant role in saving my life during this war," Jewell said.

She was able to get directions from a Lebanese police officer who told her to cut through a banana plantation along a dirt road that wasn't marked on her map. Believe it or not, Jewell has a lesson here for business leaders.

"Out of that situation, it's really important for us as leaders in business to be able to identify where we might face issues in our business, and equip ourselves with whatever skills are necessary to give ourselves the best chance of tackling those issues," Jewell said.

Jewell's convoy eventually arrived at the northern outskirts of Tyre but needed to get through to city to the relative safety of the UN compound. Unfortunately Israel was preparing to conduct an airstrike on Tyre at that time.

"It was shaping up to be a tough day in the office for me at that point," said Jewell.

"I am now having to make some really substantial decisions and the risks of those decisions I am making as the leader is very high. I was making decisions that weren't only going to impact my life but the 16 people I was responsible for."

The lesson here for business people is that if you have a critical process in your business, you not only need a plan but you need to practice and rehearse the plan before getting into a crisis situation, said Jewell.

"It sounds like common sense but sometimes things get overlooked until that heat of the moment when it's far too late to run rehearsals," Jewell said.

Despite the danger, Jewell decided to push on through the fighting to Tyre. Her vehicle was hit and she slammed forward into the bulletproof glass, breaking her back in five places and sustaining other internal injuries.

Jewell spent two days lying on her back without pain relief on a tiled floor in the UN compound in Tyre. She was eventually transferred to a ship carrying 1,000 refugees and families of the peacekeeping force and receive much-needed morphine for the 20-hour trip to Cyprus.


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