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Abbas Niknejad is the Regional Officer (air navigation system) at the European and North Atlantic Office of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO EUR/NAT) in Paris. He joined ICAO in 2014 after 14 years of professional experience in the aviation domain in Iran, his home country.

Abbas holds a bachelor’s degree in aviation as well as master’s and PhD in management. Over the last 24 years, he has held several positions at the expert and supervisory levels as well as professor positions at the University of Tehran.

In this spotlight interview Abbas shares his UN Emerging Leaders (UNEL-e) learning journey with Aida Ghazaryan, UNSSC’s Learning Portfolio Manager.

Aida: Pleasure to host you today, Abbas, tell us a little bit about your current career journey with ICAO.

Abbas: Thank you, Aida. As far as my current position, ICAO Regional Offices play a lead role on the regional level to coordinate planning and implementation support to Member States related to ICAO standards and recommended practices. Our ICAO regional office conducts this mission in cooperation and collaboration with other aviation stakeholders in the region.

My journey with ICAO has been filled with diverse experiences and challenges, allowing me to grow both professionally and personally. Working in the aviation sector has been particularly rewarding, and I’ve been fortunate to contribute to ICAO’s mission in ensuring the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation.

Aida:  There is a big call now with UN 2.0 to equip UN system with the modern expertise required “to turbocharge our support” to the member states. In this context and given your role in ICAO, how did the UNEL-e programme contribute to your leadership development for impact?

Abbas: The UNEL-e programme played a pivotal role in aligning my skills with the evolving needs of the UN system under the UN 2.0. The modules, especially focusing on the UN system leadership framework and managing emotions, provided me with contemporary insights and tools to enhance my leadership effectiveness. The emphasis on real-time virtual sessions, 360-degree surveys, and individual coaching tailored the learning experience to my specific context, enabling me to contribute more effectively to my role at ICAO. All these practices together with exercising communication skills helped all of us to learn how a more robust relationship could be established and maintained with our stakeholders, namely Member States, in order to promote the UN initiatives more effectively.

Aida: If I ask you to use an analogy or a metaphor for the programme what would that be? How did you find the components, course content, design, facilitation, methodology and curation? If you could summarize the learning space and experience, what comes to your mind?

Abbas: The UNEL-e programme is like a well-crafted navigation system for leadership development in the UN system. The components and course content acted as guiding stars, providing direction and clarity. The design and facilitation were akin to a smooth flight, with each module building on the previous one, ensuring a seamless learning experience. The methodology demonstrated a thoughtful approach, making the journey both engaging and impactful.

Aida: Could you tell us what you enjoyed most about your learning experience? Were there any major take-aways that scaled up your skills and competencies?

Abbas: The interactive nature of the program allowed me to learn from experts and peers, fostering a collaborative and engaging environment with other colleagues and peers.  Especially the 360 degrees assessment and the individual coaching sessions were of those items among others that I enjoyed and learned a lot from. One of my take-aways was for sure the results of the 360° tool based on which I would be able to develop further. It has undoubtedly scaled up my skills and competencies, positively impacting my leadership approach at ICAO.

Aida: We introduced a lot of tools/leadership hacks across many modules.  “Practice, Practice, Practice!” – you heard that a lot in the programme. What have been most relevant and how did you apply it in your context at ICAO? Anything used that emerged from your 360 assessment and coaching sessions?

Abbas: The emphasis on practice has been instrumental in translating theory into action. Tools like effective communication strategies and managing emotions have proven highly relevant in my role at ICAO. The 360-assessment provided valuable insights into my leadership style, and the coaching sessions helped me develop a personalized roadmap for improvement. Applying these learnings, I’ve been able to foster better communication, navigate challenging situations, and strengthen relationships within the organization already while being in the programme.

Aida: Could you tell us what you found extraordinary about your learning experience on the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning Programme? What were the most memorable lessons?

Abbas: The extraordinary aspect was the holistic approach to leadership development. The most memorable lessons revolved around understanding the nuances of the UN system leadership framework, navigating emotions in leadership, and honing effective communication skills. These lessons have left a lasting impact on my professional growth.