The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2012

J U LY- A U G U S T 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 33 creased numbers of people and in- creased interest in the value of training from the posts and the bu- reaus. I think there’s been a real cul- ture shift over the last decade re- garding the value of training. It’s not unusual to have some of our more senior officers and retired of- ficers say: “The only training I ever did after A-100 was language train- ing and the deputy chief of mission course.” We would all talk about why that was true: “People didn’t value training. People didn’t want to go to training. People didn’t want to release their employees for training.” And I think that has really turned around significantly. We see it in the volume. Since we instituted manda- tory leadership training in 2002, during Secretary of State Colin Powell’s tenure, 17,000 people have participated. The courses get very high marks and high reviews. We don’t hear people talking about how “I don’t want to go, but I have to go,” or how they don’t want to let their em- ployees go, but they have to let them go. I think in gen- eral, people have come to see the value of letting their employees improve their skills. TJ: Our most recent customer service survey showed an overall rate of 94-percent satisfaction with the training. In it, when we asked: “How did you pick what training to apply for?” a plurality said, “My supervisor recommended I take the course.” That’s a change. That shows supervi- sors are not just willing to let their employees go to train- ing, but are encouraging them to do so. Part of the reason for that is we train supervisors to do that in the leadership school. SZ: How is leadership training changing? RW: It’s the focus on leadership training from A-100 orientation through a person’s promotion into the senior ranks. We’re not waiting until people get to be senior to say: “Now we’ll talk about leadership training.” It builds an expectation that people in A-100 expect to be treated well, expect to be well trained and expect to be well led. I think the whole personnel system has begun to see the importance of these people skills and leadership skills, and not just policy skills, in getting you to the top. It’s a real continuum, from FS-3 to -2 to -1, and into the senior ranks; talking about practical issues of perform- ance management, how you super- vise employees and listen to them, how you deal with problem em- ployees and building self-aware- ness. The senior training is really fo- cused on how leadership at that level is really different. When you move across that threshold into the senior ranks, you’re really taking on a different set of responsibilities for the leadership of the whole department. Tracey and I were visiting this morning with someone who was in that course last week, and he talked about how valuable it was to reflect on his own leadership style. There is a very dif- ferent attitude toward all of that, with people thinking: “If I want to be a very successful senior officer, then lead- ing people is as important as having very strong policy skills or very strong substantive skills.” I’m not so sure historically that was always the case. You could certainly get to the top if you were brilliant even without having very strong leadership skills. I think on the whole, today people think that leadership skills are an important part of rising to the top of the Service. TJ: One of the things I think is really critical about all of our mandatory leadership courses, all four of them, is that they include 360-degree feedback. Before taking the course, each participant is required to send this sur- vey out to supervisors, peers and subordinates asking those folks to rank them in a variety of different areas. It gives everyone the opportunity to identify the person’s three biggest leadership strengths and three areas for im- provement. This gets to the issue of self-awareness, which is a key element to any kind of leadership. It’s a very powerful tool. It’s not something anyone is using to rate anyone in the class or judge them. It’s for the officers themselves to see how they are perceived by others. That helps folks to direct their training and their professional development, and to understand how they might interact differently with people who have different work styles. SZ: Can you quantify the increase in training that’s occurred? RW: At the end of Fiscal Year 2011, the number of enrollments in training and number of hours people spend in training are up by at least 30 percent since 2005. F OCUS “I think there’s been a real culture shift over the last decade regarding the value of training.” — FSI Director Ruth A. Whiteside