The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

14 APRIL 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL strapped supervisors with veto power over merely recommended training. And absent the investment of real resources—that is, resources equal to the scope of the policy’s ambition that help to establish and sustain the bureaucratic and other structures required— the new policy’s fate will be subject to (and probably the victim of) inevitable shifts in the political winds. Such gaps between lofty ideas and rubber-meets-road reality make skeptics predictably wary. Many have seen this roadshow before. Still, while fully supporting the idea and hopeful that things will be di erent this time, most FS observers are looking for concrete signs of how and why this new policy will be di erent—di erent for being serious, structural, and sustainable over the long term, with ends and means in dynamic balance. While all would welcome the telltale signs foreshadowing success, many fear that in their absence the new learning policy might well collapse and revert to the old learning policy in short order. Alexis Ludwig is a retired Senior Foreign Service o cer. He joined the Foreign Service in 1994 and spent most of his career in overseas missions in the Western Hemisphere and East Asia. He served on the FSJ Editorial Board from 2018 to 2024 and helped launch the pilot version of the new Core Skills for Mid-Career Professionals course, which anchors the core curriculum. Prioritizing Learning BY DON JACOBSON Iwas delighted to see the September 2023 announcement of the new Learning Policy and Sarah Wardwell’s excellent article about it in the March 2024 issue of e Foreign Service Journal. e policy re ects a potentially transformative commitment to professional development by State Department leadership; achieving its goals will require commitment from all of us. Providing top cover and giving their teams space to invest in professional development is one of the greatest contributions senior leaders can make to advancing the Learning Policy. Senior leaders generally have short time horizons for accomplishing our mission-related goals, so it’s tempting to keep our teams going at full sprint all the time. However, investing in well-thoughtout approaches to professional development will help our team members be more e ective and motivated, thereby increasing their capacity to accomplish the mission. To make this work, managers and supervisors at all levels will need to carve out time for professional development development. We are not empty vessels who just go to the Foreign Service Institute to get lled with leadership, language skills, or regional expertise. We must become students of our craft and put in the continuous e ort required to learn and grow, whether we are in training or on the job. at also includes taking the initiative to volunteer for projects, identify new learning resources, and adopt a disciplined practice of professional reading. It’s up to each of us to make carving out time for professional development a priority; this is simply one of the many balancing acts we must do as leaders. It’s not a question of getting the work done or developing our people. We must do both. Don Jacobson joined the Foreign Service in 1992 and has led some of the State Department’s largest consular operations. He currently serves as acting deputy assistant secretary for passport services. for their teams and think strategically about how to use the practices inherent in their role as supervisors (i.e., assigning work and giving feedback) to develop their people. For example, assigning projects that make employees stretch while providing them feedback and support is a great way to help employees grow in the process of doing the job. e Learning Policy also encourages the use of individual development plans (IDPs), and we should embrace that as a mechanism for ensuring our investment in professional development aligns the needs of our employees with the needs of the mission. Of course, we also need to nd ways to free up our people to attend training and go on detail assignments or temporary duty tours. Finally, we need to remember that every single one of us, as employees of the State Department, needs to take ownership of our own professional We must become students of our craft.