The Foreign Service Journal, May 2024

18 MAY 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL SPEAKING OUT Don Jacobson joined the Foreign Service in 1992 and has led some of the State Department’s largest consular operations, such as those in Mexico, Brazil, and India. He currently serves as acting deputy assistant secretary for passport services. Publication of its new Learning Policy in September 2023 was a watershed moment for the State Department. For the first time, the department’s leadership has made the creation of a culture shift regarding training and education an explicit priority. Achieving this goal would be transformational, as it would significantly enhance the capacity of our organization while fostering motivation throughout our ranks. The Learning Policy includes a number of important components that are a big step forward, such as 40 hours of professional development per year for all direct hire employees, eligible family members, and locally employed (LE) staff. It also encourages widespread use of individual development plans (IDPs). These measures provide a firm foundation, but we cannot allow them to become mere box-checking exercises. Culture is the cumulative effect of individual behaviors, so creating a “learning culture” will require we achieve a critical mass of managers who make developing their people a central part of how they lead. My favorite definition of leadership comes from John Mellecker, a former financial services executive: “Leadership is the creation of an environment in which others are able to self-actualize in the process of completing the job.” Below I outline eight practices managers can use to develop the next generation in the process of getting the job done. PRACTICE #1 Hold One-on-One Meetings Weekly (or biweekly) one-on-one meetings are a leadership superpower. One-on-ones are a great way to get to know your direct reports and learn about their strengths, motivations, and goals. Done well, these meetings can foster psychological safety, which is necessary for candor and strong teams. (Candor is like oxygen for an organization.) Regularly scheduled one-on-ones are also a critical tool for ensuring we are getting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accountability right. Our priority as managers should be to get the best out of every employee. Weekly one-on-ones enable us to get to know every one of our direct reports and ensure they feel seen and have opportunities to discuss their ideas and professional development with the boss. I have encountered employees who go months without a one-on-one conversation with their boss. This makes them feel invisible, which is a horrible feeling. Weekly one-on-ones do require a time commitment, of course, so it’s important to put them on the calendar. Early in my career as a manager I realized one-on-ones would be useful, but I failed to put them on my calendar. As a result, they got squeezed out by the press of day-to-day work. Once I started scheduling them, I found that they saved me time because we were able to identify and solve problems when they were still small. I now spend much less time putting out fires and more time engaging with my people. Researcher Steven Rogelberg estimates that half of all one-on-one meetings are conducted in an ineffective manner, so it’s important to learn to do them well. I highly recommend Dr. Rogelberg’s book Glad We Met: The Art and Science of 1:1 Meetings and his November 2022 Harvard Business Review article, “Make the Most of Your One-onOne Meetings.” PRACTICE #2 Make It Safe to Ask for Help During my first “get to know you” one-on-one with each employee, I share that I have three pet peeves: “Rudeness to Our Customers, Rudeness to Colleagues, and Not Asking If You Don’t Know How to Do Something.” That last one is designed to counter a common It’s Up to Us to Implement the Learning Policy BY DON JACOBSON It is important for managers to model a commitment to continuous learning.