The United Nations’ Entourage

What this week’s UN General Assembly and the demand for purpose-driven leadership have in common.




They descend each fall into New York City, ambassadors and consuls attending the annual United Nations General Assembly. And as they give speeches and make headlines, each dignitary comes along with a retinue of diplomats, helpers, and hangers-on—a little-noticed but key entourage.

CEOs, of course, attend annual industry events with their own mid-level employee help as well. In each case, the events are providing the rarest of learning and mind-broadening experiences that workers in today’s purpose-driven world demand. “At these events, they get exposure to a broad range of people and their points of view,” says Louis Montgomery Jr., leader of Korn Ferry’s Human Resources and Diversity Officers practice and Professional Search practice in the firm’s Reston, Virginia, office. “It is a much broader perspective than they would [get] in the office.”

They also learn more about strategy rather than tactics. Leaders of organizations, whether CEO or ambassador, think about the overall strategy, whereas the rest of an organization focuses on tactics, explains Montgomery. “It would be very beneficial to mid-level employees to get that exposure,” he says. In the simplest terms, a strategy might involve fostering better links with other organizations, whereas the tactics might mean arranging group dinners between companies.

Then there is the much-lauded opportunity to do some networking. In other words, when an employee already knows how to navigate around his or her employer organization, then it is time to expand that reach. Mid-level employees get that by meeting people from other organizations and exchanging contact details. “These could be very important relationships, not only for themselves but also for their countries or their companies,” says Montgomery.

Some delegates at this type of event will be gathering information, perhaps to be used to bargain when making deals. “With negotiations, the strength of position comes with information,” says Katie Sharpe, principal of the Digital practice, EMEA, at Korn Ferry ’s London office. In other words, more information allows your side to build a better strategy. “At the UN you have an opportunity to gather information,” she says. The same applies to industry functions.

It works like so: When the bigwigs finish their speeches, the cocktail parties begin, and at that point, the other team members observe people from other organizations. In the case of the UN, it’s the diplomatic entourage that does this. For companies, it will be the CEO’s conference team or similar. Whoever they are, they listen to conversations. In doing so, they enhance their knowledge and start to more clearly gauge what things people would be willing to concede in negotiations and which things they wouldn’t. “You engage other parties, then gauge the feeling and the boundaries,” says Sharpe.