The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | APRIL 2024 23 SPEAKING OUT Johanna Villalobos is a Foreign Service o cer and a 2023 Una Chapman Cox Sabbatical Fellow. Her fellowship year is devoted to personal and professional development while working with the private sector and academia to explore the relationship between leadership and happiness. She most recently served at U.S. Embassy Paraguay as long-term acting deputy chief of mission and public a airs o cer. A public diplomacy o cer, she has also served in Ecuador, Bolivia, Morocco, and Nicaragua, as well as at the Department of State and the Foreign Service Institute. Follow her journey on Instagram: @leading.happiness. Being a good leader in the Foreign Service comes with a hefty amount of pressure. Will they respect me? Am I getting through? Do they get me? ese are some of the questions constantly running through our heads. It makes sense—the stakes are high. It’s vital for leaders to set the right tone for the sake of our teams but also for the greater mission of the State Department. Whether we’re leading an intern, a section, or an entire embassy, leadership means inspiring others to achieve their best. But how do we get “there”? It would be tempting to just recommend additional training and professional development books. Do keep doing those things, as they are important and help us grow both personally and professionally. Here’s the real secret though: It has nothing to do with external factors and everything to do with you. e surprising secret to powerful leadership is your happiness. Yes, happiness. According to a 2019 article in Forbes magazine, “ e happiest people make the best leaders, and conversely, unhappy people don’t make good leaders. In fact, the best leaders put their own interest ahead of others and are happy as a result of doing so.” Before you skip ahead to the next piece, indulge me for a couple more minutes. I, like some of you, had reached the breaking point in my career after almost two decades in the Foreign Service. I was burned out. I questioned the intensity with which I had been pushing my career. I couldn’t seem to keep up with my life. No amount of yoga and self-care would be enough to reset and recover when an ever-growing workload, turnovers, and constant understa ng meant almost always having to do two (or more) jobs at once. As my frustration grew, so did my unhappiness. I felt stuck. Prioritize Yourself What changed? Externally … well, nothing. At least nothing outside my control. But what did change was my perspective, and that changed everything. I chose to prioritize myself and do the work to become happier—because happiness isn’t something that “happens” to me. It is something I have to create. anks to the Una Chapman Cox Sabbatical Fellowship, I have had a year to learn and grow while exploring the relationship between leadership and happiness. You may be asking, “Isn’t good leadership all about self-sacri ce?” No, it is not. But the culture of self-sacri ce at the State Department is widely accepted and well ingrained. I strongly believed, and many of us still do, that the best leaders are sel ess and put other people’s interests ahead of our own. But I was wrong. Decades of research, as presented in Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz’s e Good Life (2023), has shown that focusing on our own happiness directly correlates to more success, better health, and greater kindness, which bene ts not just ourselves but others around us, too. Happiness leads to well-being, and wellbeing sustains happiness. Why Your Happiness as a Leader Matters Happy people are more productive and innovative, they inspire others, and they e ect real and lasting change. The Surprising Secret to Powerful Leadership BY JOHANNA VILLALOBOS The culture of self-sacrifice at the State Department is widely accepted and well ingrained.