The Foreign Service Journal, November 2011

W hen I left the Foreign Service Institute in 1989 after three years heading up the Executive Development Divi- sion, I published an article in the For- eign Service Journal titled “Lea- dership at State: The Neglected Di- mension.” That title pretty well sum- med up my assessment. Fast forward 16 years. I have re- cently retired after 24 years of service, the last three spent as the dean of FSI’s Leadership and Management School. My assessment of leadership at State today? A work in progress. “Take care of your people,” words absent from our vocabulary in 1989 but a mantra over the past few years, still echo for me. Over 4,500 col- leagues at the middle and senior ranks have graduated from at least one of the mandatory leadership training courses with a common understanding of how and why leadership works. The results of the Office of Pers- onnel Management’s 2004 Human Capital Survey show a stunning im- provement over the 2002 survey in the opinions State Department employees hold of their supervisors. The ambas- sadorial and DCM seminars empha- size leadership responsibilities, and participants discuss them seriously. We can all name hardship posts with wonderful morale because of good leadership from the front office. And grass-roots initiatives are popping up all over — the Leadership Round- table and YPro (Young Professionals) groups are just two that are fostering change. And yet… We are still not an organization that values leadership across the board. A boss may demonstrate leadership, or not. He or she may understand what it is, or not. Either way, it’s fine. Clearly, too many people still don’t get it: lead- ership is not some touchy-feely, peo- ple-related thing that’s nice to do if you have time after tending to process and paper. Nor does it mean serving the next person up the ladder exclusively, as if only people at the top can get something accomplished. And it’s not something you delegate to the head of your management team. Rather, leadership is providing the vision, wherewithal and stewardship to enable others to achieve results — it’s leveraging your assets. It’s a job in and of itself, vital to policy and central to transformational diplomacy. Value Leadership in Washington, Too I’ve seen many more examples of leadership overseas than I have in Washington. Of course, there are rea- sons for that. Overseas, the chief of mission has a letter signed by the pres- ident of the United States outlining his or her leadership responsibilities, and the accompanying accountability is clear. People taking ambassadorial and DCM assignments for the first time are obligated to attend preparatory seminars. At post, security and other concerns force every front office to pay increas- ing attention to purpose, organization and people. Employees and even “the system” are less tolerant of bad or in- different leadership overseas and more inclined to take action against it. This has a trickle-down effect. If the top values leadership, others do, too. The culture in Washington is dif- ferent. Senior leaders, career and non-career alike, receive no written ex- pectations of performance from the president; their work objectives are closely held. Many are too busy to at- tend senior-level seminars designed to enhance effectiveness in very compli- cated jobs. I’m not sure how many in leadership positions even consider themselves accountable for issues be- yond those which relate directly to short-term policy goals. As a result, when I look at the department’s orga- nizational chart, I know what the boxes 32 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 1 We have made progress, but the Foreign Service is still not an organization that values leadership across the board. Leadership at State: A Work in Progress B Y P RUDENCE B USHNELL S PEAKING O UT J OURNAL Editor S TEVE H ONLEY ’ S C lassic P icks FSJ N OVEMBER 2005