The Foreign Service Journal, May 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2024 19 fear among new FSOs that it is not safe to show they don’t know everything. Our work is complex, and no one was born knowing how to do it. Asking for help is a sign of strength and courage, while failing to do so can waste time and create the need for unproductive re-work. PRACTICE #3 Delegate Effectively to Develop Your Employees’ Skills Managers often fall into the trap of not delegating because they believe it is easier to complete a task than to delegate it. That may be true in the short run, but if we persist in doing things that others would benefit from learning, we will be ridiculously busy while our teams are frustrated and underdeveloped. Effective delegation does take some time up front, but by making that investment we can help our team members improve their job skills and motivation—and we, as managers, will have more time to think strategically and develop our team. Two helpful (and short) books about delegation are The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey and If You Want It Done Right, You Don’t Have to Do It Yourself! It’s important to remember that delegation involves a conversation, and the employee needs to leave that conversation with a clear understanding of the desired outcome, how the task ranks with other priorities, when it is due, and how to get help if they become stuck. PRACTICE #4 Invite Innovation My first supervisor in the Foreign Service put in my work requirements that he wanted me to take a hard look at the whole operation and make recommendations for improvement. I took him literally and had a blast with it. I proposed many ways to make the operation more efficient or improve service. Not all my ideas were ready for prime time, but it was incredibly motivating to know that my supervisor was open to my ideas—and exciting to see some of them make a difference. I found that practice so motivating that, when I became a manager, I wanted my officers to have that same feeling. I put that mandate to look for better ways of doing things in the work requirements of all my officers once I became a supervisor and have continued that practice throughout my career. When I started managing frontline supervisors, I added a line in their work requirements saying that I expected them to elicit innovative ideas from their teams. I wanted to make sure they didn’t quash good ideas from the front lines. This practice is also a great way to grow leaders. Effective leaders take ownership of their sphere of influence and work with the team to make things better. Getting more junior employees in the habit of identifying problems and owning them prepares them to do the same when they are in positions of leadership. The experience of implementing their innovative ideas also gives them valuable practice working across organizational boundaries, influencing others, and obtaining resources. PRACTICE #5 Give People Feedback to Help Them Succeed Giving feedback is a fundamental part of every supervisor’s job. When preparing to deliver feedback, it’s important to approach the conversation with the intention of helping the employee be successful. Be curious about what led to the behavior requiring correction. It’s important to remember that we do not know what is going on in the lives— or heads—of other people. Just deliver the feedback and then let them talk. If you start with anger or a punitive mindset, the conversation is likely to harm the relationship and/or cause performance to deteriorate further. Avoid making the feedback feel like a personal attack. Adjectives like “unprofessional” or “lazy” will simply make the person defensive and resentful. Pare the message down to its essence: the specific behavior you observed and the impact that behavior had. It’s also important to make the feedback future-focused (i.e., explain what behaviors you want to see going forward). If you only focus the conversation on what the employee did wrong, it may feel like you are punishing them. Also, don’t forget to give positive feedback. Even the best employees may become unsettled if they aren’t sure where they stand with the boss. Gallup’s research indicates that employees benefit from having positive interactions with their supervisor at least weekly. PRACTICE #6 Host Professional Development Days Since 2005 the Bureau of Consular Affairs has asked consular sections around the world to set aside one day per month for professional development. Consular Development Days can include brainstorming sessions, formal training sessions, guest speakers, team activities, and time for special projects. We have found that the busiest sections often need this time the most—and productivity typically increases the rest of the month because this practice