Marie Anne Amadieu is a leader in a major humanitarian organization and holds a mandate in response to the Syrian Crisis.
In this podcast, she shares her initial struggles to fit into her organization, how that didn’t work for her, how she eventually learned to lean into her gentle and sensitive nature instead, and how that makes her a better leader and a happier human being.
She shares the limits of a leadership culture that only focuses on exterior delivery at the expense of human relations and well-being.
As a leader straddling both worlds, she speaks to the emergence of a new paradigm of feminine leadership that acts as a bridge between generations.
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My guest today is Marie Anne Amadieu.
Marie Anne is French. She's based in Beirut, Lebanon, and she works as a leader in a major international organization. She holds a humanitarian mandate and is currently working on the response to the Syrian crisis. Marie Anne, welcome. It's wonderful to have you here, and thank you for being willing to be a guest in this podcast. I'm honored and delighted to have you.
Thank you, Claire. Happy to be here.
Marie Anne, I'm interested to know how you, as a woman working in such a big international organization,, knowing your sensitivity and your capacity to access the inner world. I've known you for many years and I know that you have a certain angle perspective that you are trying to bring into your work, and I'm most interested to know how do you straddle the inner world that you've been awakening to for many years now and this other world in your everyday work. So please tell us more about how you navigate these two worlds.
Well, that's a very big question actually, it's baby steps first because it's an awakening as you said, and it takes a lot of time to actually realize who you are and let go of what you think you should be. So for me, I think all my career choices were actually not going in the sense of this awakening.
I think I was trying to fit into something and I was almost hurting myself, trying to fit, to those big organizations,, to this you know, this ideal that I had of the international relations world and the humanitarian world and the world through the United Nations . So it was always something that I wanted to do, but I thought I would not fit. So first that's important to note because it's not like, something that I was. Necessarily already accepting but indeed, slowly but surely, I realized that I was not necessarily fitting so well into those big structures that are extremely rigid, and especially the humanitarian world. I mean, I've been working in international relations for a while now, and before taking up this mandate in Lebanon, I was working in political affairs and it's, it's another world.
But the humanitarian world, Particularly, is rigid and particularly masculine, and if we want to, you know, to put a word on it, and definitely I wanted to belong, so I wanted to probably tone down the feminine part of me and the sensitivity that I had to sort of fit into that organization.
But of course, very rapidly, I realized that it was not working, that it was making me feel tired, stressed , sad, and , that I had to actually probably accept more of who I am and decide on through. You know, working with you, through coaching, through meeting with other women struggling with the same issues and just trying to find a balance in between who I am and how I can serve this organization better.
So basically it's more an acceptation of that first, it's, it's taking time and sometimes I still have the old patterns coming back. You know, I'm in a meeting and I want to be like the tough one and, and, not show that part of me too much. But others, other days I try to let go. And when I do that, I simply realize that it works better for me.
It works better for my colleagues. It works better for the things that I have to do. So I just have to be more confident and bring more trust in that along the way. So I'm here. I mean, it's, I find it's a constant, struggle or at least a constant search for balance. And it's not every day the same, and it's not every day easy.
I am smiling because it seems like you've said it all and you make it sound easy. And of course you, you just said it, it's a constant struggle so you don't totally make it sound easy, but it's years and years of practice and, and trusting yourself and knowing that there is a thread of softness and, and truth and goodness that you've been holding onto in, in moving through this big rigid structure. And I know, a little bit about it because I've been part of your support team, so , it takes tenacity and some sort of faith.
Tell us a little bit more about what does it take to keep holding onto this tiny.
First of all, I, as I said, I think it's baby steps. You know, when you try to let go and you are more true to yourself, then you realize in meetings, in interactions with people, that suddenly things flow better and it works better. So by practicing that and by witnessing that it's actually positive, that it has a positive impact, you are inclined to try more.
So that's, that's probably your first thing. Then it's really, it was really about coming to realize that this, this particular organization I'm working with, Most people that are working there did their entire career there. So they have a DNA, like they really have a particular DNA. They have a particular way of working and they they love their, mandate and their work to the core, but to a point that sometimes it hurts. You know? I mean, humanitarian works is really hard. And you have to keep in mind that the people that I meet on a daily basis, they, they move from one country to another every four years they've been to extremely difficult places around the world.
They live through very difficult crisis. So when I, when I joined this organization, I was already an adult and I was, and I did not have this experience of, you know, roughness and I, I lived a few, things myself, uh, during my mandated Lebanon, and I can only imagine what it's like to have, you know, to have worked in Afghanistan, in Kosovo, in all of the, you know, the most terrifying and, and, and, and conflicts around the world.
So, I had to accept that I was not that person. and that I could still be a good, Added value to that organization. And this is probably because I have this, , positivity, this, uh, this sensitivity, this more feminine approach to thing. And I can listen to my colleagues and I can be very much inclined to understand what they've been through, how they work, why they work like that.
So I have a profound respect for who they are, what they've been through. And sometime I. I'm just like, okay, you will never be that core humanitarian person. My work is actually an external relation, so what I do is I try to bring attention to the crisis with working on, so I try to bring funds, I try to bring.
Political attention. So I'm not the core humanitarian front liner, but I came to realize that I could be a strong, alive for these people. I can be there for them, I can support them, I can be, you know, navigating around and, and try to, to be a, a support system for them too. And , it's, Through little things, you know, it's through the supports that I provide them, trying to understand what they do and explain that to external audiences.
That's, that's what I do on a day-to-day basis. But it's also in trying to, you know, in simple things, in meetings, , in interactions, bring who I am and, and, and bring my personality to the table without trying to be that, that strong core humanitarian field worker that I'm, that I'm not. . So it's baby steps.
It's, it's in little things and it's, , through accepting and trusting that the way you are can actually be an nest. And, , and I witnessed that like, , in very simple things. I, I really do believe that, , colleagues like to work with me because I'm a, I'm flexible. I'm an easygoing person. I'm very attentive to what they say.
I'm a listener. And I think they value that. And I think it works well because, Bring that, that particular aspects of, , of my personality to the table, if we were all the same, and believe me, it's 90% of the same profiles. So if we were all the same, I think it would be working less well in a way. So I just trust that and I try to keep going, , with that trust.
And also to compliment it on that. I think it's also a question of generations. I mean, I really see from my younger colleagues a clear shift in the way we work. , and I'm very confident that it's also moving. It's, it's also changing even, , through this, , even within those big, big organizations that are quite, , big systems to move.
I see through the new generation that it's gonna change, , big time. And, , and it's, it's actually also very, , promising. I mean, for me it's, it's a relief. And I, and I also rely a lot on the, on the younger staff that I have to work with because I sense they have to the same sensitivity in a way. .
. When you say the core, humanitarian, , what is their behavior that you are, comparing to, your own, let's start here.
Mm-hmm. I mean, I, I don't want to. To do a caricature, you know, of these people, because I think, of course there are many and, and there are many profiles. But what I see is that, , these are people who have to shut down a bit, the emotions part of them because it's very overwhelming what we, what we go through, what we see and what they saw on the field on the day-to-day basis, especially for the front liner stuff, right?
You know, the humanitarian motto is “stay and deliver”, and it says it all. I mean, you, you see, , terrible things affecting people's life and you have to be there and to be strong enough to continue to support them. And not to fall apart. And I think it's a very common human reaction that when you want to , hold on to, you know, you don't wanna fall apart.
Basically. You want to be ready and you wanna be, , capable to. Continue to deliver and be there and work. It's, it's a tremendous amount of work. It's a lot, the workload is very, very important in that I think we should emphasize on that. So to be able to go through that and to continue to deliver, you have to, to be very focused and you have to shut down on some motions, I guess.
And it's what people do. Um, so the profiles that I see here are people that, as I said, , did that their entire career. So things that. Hard to describe. , and, , and still they continue to deliver. So there is a profound trust in what they do, I find, and a, and a patient. But at the same time, , the amount of empathy that they put for the person they serve is absolutely.
Not the same that they put into their work, , environment and the direct relationship they have with their peers or the supervisor or the supervisors. And that is very, , surprising. So you will see people that are in total empathy with the course, but are very tough on a day-to-day basis in the way they manage people, , , and work.
So it's an interesting contradiction to deal with.
And it makes sense on an emotional level, right? On a human level, it's impossible to keep your heart fully open. When you have to take in so much. It's just …
Absolutely. I think it's shifting very slowly, I think, but as many big organizations for now, I feel we are still in, in the transition phase where we.
We see the issue, we propose solution. I can, I mean, you, you should see the number of policies, resources that are there to help you through the staff welfare, mental health for staff. I mean, it's really something that is, everyone is focusing on that, but we're still shifting, so it's still policies to me.
You know what I mean? It's still. Paperworks . It needs to be translated in the real life of the, of the humanitarian workers.
Exactly. And this is where I think women like you are key elements of that transition. Hmm. You are talking to and the way that you described yourself is as a bridge, right? You come from a different world. You bring your feminine sensitivity and gentle way of leading, um, which is new in this world. And you have this role actually of acting as a bridge. So the policies already on paper. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. But have, bring them in everyday life.
Right. And it's not that core profile, , we're caricaturing a little bit, it's not that type of profile that is going to be able to do this work. Women like you, women and men of course, , that carry , that new way of being. So it, it's really that transition. and human bridges that are going to...
Absolutely. And there is, once again, a question of generation there.
Tell me more about these young people that you see
I think, uh, for me, I've witnessed a lot of women, from a certain age, so, you know, 40 plus that have made tremendous sacrifices to be leaders in these organizations. And , now more and more you see young women who just don't want to go there or want to do differently, are not ready to do the same sacrifices, even though they are also very, committed to the cause. You know, it's not like, ,they are less, , committed or less involved. It's just that they see the world differently now. And, the young generation, I find is really a model for me. I'm, I'm sort of in between . I'm gonna be 40 this summer, and , I feel I'm sort of in between.We figured out a lot of things. But the younger generation is implementing them in a way, and , they are great role models in terms of inclusion.
And it's not only for gender, it's for everything , and, and they are not ready to surrender to the good old “stay and deliver” no matter what, no matter your mental health, no matter what your children feel like when you work, , too much, , no matter what's the, the impact on your work-life balance, your family life, and so on, so forth.
So I think they are more inclined to implement those things. We were, we were touching upon. and we were bringing them to the table. But I feel it will be more and more, um, concrete with the new generation. So you, me, you just mentioned them, but , can you repeat again the sacrifices. Mm. But that means, you know, when you have, , such careers, , where you have to move, , every four years where you have to go, first of all, I must say, when you are in the humanitarian world, and that is very specific to the humanitarian world.
a lot of crisis you serve, , are non-family duty station, as we call them in the system. So you cannot bring your family with you. Uh, simple as that. , so if you work in Afghanistan, for instance, you, you work, you are on your own. And if you have a family, they will be in a capital and you will see them every two months or depending on the system, if you.
I know like the, the vacation that the organization gives you so you can see your family from time to time so that this doesn't work. You just end up not having a family, I imagine. Exactly. Well, exactly my point. So it's either, I mean, if you are a core human humanitarian and really what's your want to do is this,
It's either you have an arrangement with your family, , we see that. , so you have your husband who is taking care of the kids , and lives in the capital or in a country nearby. , and you, uh, are alone in your duty station. Sometimes you live in a compound with military, , around you. And so of course, in this context, , a lot of women.
Just , didn't take the time, to build their families or, and they just, , made other choices. That's one. And I'm, I'm talking about woman because I'm a woman, but it's the same, , choices for men actually. , it's , just a tiny bit easier for men. So you have, , all the women who have, , sacrificed their family life.
You have people who have had arrangements with their families, but that also impacted deeply their relationships. , it impacts your relationship with your family, with the friends that you make. Because of course you move all the time. So you know, all these questions that expats have, but with a tiny bit more, , issues due to the fact that sometimes, , you are in non-family stations, then you have the familys such as Lebanon.
Lebanon is a family station. You come with your family. Still, the workload is extremely important. , so it, it still impacts your family life. Let's not, , kid ourselves. And then, you know, Lebanon has been, , going through. , a very, very deep crisis itself. So you come, , you come and you start working for a family duty station, and you think it's gonna be living in the Mediterranean for four years, and it ends up that you go through the blast, you go through, , pandemic, covid pandemic and all the impacts that it has and everything.
So, . It's tough, I think on the personal life. Definitely. And you have to, to find your balance. And I think we and the new generation even more, are better in doing that than the whole generation, frankly. And, but the thing is that the generation who made the most sacrifices are now the leaders or these organizations.
and, , you will feel the sacrifices that they made. And I think for them, it's also a struggle to adapt to the new generation because in a way there will always be a voice within them, which says, I sacrificed these people. They want it all. It's not like that. They need to stay and deliver. They need to be ready.
So there is this little, you know? Exactly. And, and I think it's, it's some things where, I can really support, I can really help and I can be that bridge maybe more than the new generation that is frankly, much more direct than, , we are and maybe I can help them make their point in a way that will be more efficient, , so that this old generation is not feeling threatened or.
or, you know, but accepts the arguments and just accept dialogue because , there is a clear shift and there is a clear, you know, gap between those two generations. And again, you're straddling these two worlds. Right. , so , how did you navigate the tension between sacrifice and coming against the structures.
I mean, for me, I would say it's quite easy in the sense that, Once again, I'm not living in, a country or I'm not working for an operation that that is so hard on me that I had to, you know, step back. I feel like I found a good balance here for myself at least, and for my family life and so on and so forth.
I'm not saying it's all the time. Easy. But on average, I feel I find the right balance. So what I do, for instance, I mean I, I'm, I try to work in countries where I know I can live happily with my family, even if there are some struggles and incidents, of course. But that can mainly be somewhere where everyone can be happy.
That's the first thing. And then in my career, yes. the information you have, you're, you are raising two sons. Yes. Yes, I have two boys. One was born in Haiti and my second boy was born here in Lebanon. And uh, my main, , objective if you want is that everyone can find some. Happiness and joy in the place we live.
So I know they've been through a lot because Lebanon has been through a lot in the past years, but I also know that they are profoundly happy here. It's a place where they are happy. So it's, it's okay for me to be here and when it'll not be okay anymore, I will move. You know, it's my priority. That's first.
Are you're, you're, you're putting some lines in the center? Absolutely. Absolutely. So that's absolutely right. You, you have clear boundaries to what, what is possible and what is. Absolutely. I know that I will not go on an emergency mission right now because I wanna be with my kids that are too young for me to do that.
Maybe when they will be a bit older, I will do an emergency mission. So that means living for three months in a country that really needs a particular support for a short amount of time during the time of crisis. Right now. I know, , I won't be doing that. It's too my, my, my kids are too young. Um, I'm, I'm looking at countries for my next, , mandate, for instance, that will, that will bring the same, , things for my family.
I need everyone, to be feeling well and happy and , To be able to, to grow. , and also in the choices of my career. I mean, , once again, I'm not a front liner. I do external relations because I know it's my strength. I mean, I, I, I could try to fight against my nature and be delivering.
On the field, but I know that I'm better at advocacy, at communication, at, , bringing the stories of the people that we serve. , so it's, it's also, it's also in the choices of , the career within the organization. I mean, those big organizations, they're not one big block. You can do a lot of things within them, and you can probably through that thinking, bring your own strengths to the field that you want to serve.
So, , when I, when I joined this organization, I wanted to. I had this idea of, you know, the, the core humanitarian protection work, but it's not who I am. , and this organization is filled with people that are, that are like that. So I just, I just thought, you know, maybe I, I need to try to find my niche and be good, at what I do within an organization that I really respect deeply and that I really love the mandate, you know?
Yeah. This is so, , you know, that , you acknowledge that by going with your nature, by trusting in a way your gifts and trusting that you are enough, that you don't fit in, in a certain, in a certain way, or to be like 90% of the others. , but really trusting your own nature and surrendering more deeply to that has allowed you to actually tap into your strength and be a real added value in your organization even though you don't fit the mold and because you don't feed them all.
Absolutely. , and, and to be frank, it's not always easy and the old pattern. Are never far. So indeed, it's through practice, it's through trust, but it's also through having your support system, , in place so that you can tap into when you're in doubt , that's very important. Share a little bit about that.
So yeah, that's very important. So first of all, I feel very lucky because for the first time of my life I feel I. A tremendous support system. And it's my, my friendships mainly with women. Mainly with women who feel the same way I do, , within the organization or not.
But, uh, friends that are living a bit the same, questioning it goes through my yoga practice. And more than that, my yoga. Fellow practitioners who really became friends and a big piece of my, , support system today, my family, because I'm lucky enough to have a family who's really, , inclined , to these questionings and, and really helping me, question myself. , so I'm, I'm very lucky because I have that through my sisters and my parents, uh, but also through you, the work that we did through coaching and also through the group of women, , that I, I, I participated. Thanks to you. That has been really a big shift. Uh, I feel in my life.
So it's really to trust that you have the resources in the person that can help you. , it's more of, , a confirmation that you're on the right path and that it's fine. That it's not always, , the case that you have days where you just, , went to your old pattern and that it's perfectly fine the day after.
You can still decide to go back to where it feels better. So it's, it's just this, it's just your, the support system is key, I guess. And now more and more I tend to do that within the organiz. . I mean, this is something I really want to put time into. So I, I see, I feel the people that are, feeling alike and , I attract them and I'm trying to build that, , support system within the organization.
And that's very slow. But that is, I think, taking shape. .
Well said. Um, what you're describing is this consciousness that is arising of, we're not just individuals, we are a field. And you're absolutely, you've talked to it many times in this conversation, but what I'm hearing again is that you have that superpower, which is part of what we are awakening.
which is to tap into the collective and to sense what can grow, what is wanting to grow towards this shift. Mm-hmm. this way you have that intelligence that there is a part of you that sensing this new way of being as, a collective intelligence. So, thank you so much for speaking to all that. Is there anything else you want to add?
You, you were going to say something? No, no. I was about to say that when you put that energy into your day-to-day life, especially at work within this organization, , it changes everything because on a day-to-day basis, you will have the smile you need with your colleague, the coffee break you need with the person that will, uh, support you.
And it, it changes everything to have those little things on a day-to-day basis. Because what's really hard is to keep going, you know, and to find the continuity in, in, in this, thinking. And this behavior. So when you have these little things and when you have these little supports through the day, it just helps you go through everything basically.
So, um, well said again because what, what I'm hearing is that you are just not so separate, right? When you, certainly not when this motion in this interconnected. with others. You have the smile, you have, you are just not that, um, stuck in, in your own. Absolutely. Right. And, and so there is a fluidity.
There is an awareness that's not there otherwise. And it's more alive. there's more joy probably. Exactly. More joy. I was about to say it. It changes everything. Well, it's a good way to stop unless there's any something else that you want to add. But, um, I think we touched on a lot of important points that can be inspiring for other women who, navigate in the, in similar world.
So thank you so much for being such an inspiration. Thank you, Claire. It's a pleasure, we'll talk again soon.