The Foreign Service Journal, November 2013

48 NOVEMBER 2013 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL vice. We could remove the service and shift to roving night- time patrols (despite the fact that some of the home invasions occurred during the day) for a period of, say, three to six months, then measure the number of incidents. If it rose, our thesis was proven; if not, the bean counters were right. But as the leader of a large organization, I was not prepared to put people in harm’s way. So I fought tooth and nail to keep the guard service without conducting that experiment. Fortunately, we won that battle. Whether it was because of my tenacity, or the reminder that shortly after I arrived the city suffered a convulsion of violence when rioting students burned down the Thai embassy, I will never know. I do know that I was not prepared to put people at risk to balance a col- umn of numbers on some spreadsheet somewhere. Taking a Calculated Risk The other incident occurred during my second Foreign Ser- vice tour, when I ran the consular section at the newly opened consulate general in Shenyang. A vast expanse, my consular district was as big as Western Europe, with some 50 million Chinese and several hundred Americans looking to me for consular service. During my second month at post, an American business- man fell asleep in his hotel room in the northern city of Heilongjiang with a cigarette in his hand. As you might expect, a fire started. He was able to get out unscathed, but several other people, including his business partner and members of North Korea’s government there on official business, perished in the fire. The businessman wasn’t arrested right away, but he was prohibited from leaving the city while the investigation ground on. After nearly a week of this, with no charges being filed, he became frantic. And as the sole consular official for more than a thousand miles, I had to resolve his status. This is the heart of what we FSOs do overseas, along with observing and reporting and representing America to the local population. This case included elements of these functions as well, for I was the only American government official there, and I had to observe and report to the embassy and Washing- ton on how the Chinese justice system worked. There was no metric-based solution to the American’s problem, however. And because of the state of the communi- cation system (this was before cell phones), I couldn’t even call headquarters for advice or instructions. The solution was partly taking a calculated risk, and partly understanding the local environment. So, with the business- man’s concurrence, I told the Chinese authorities that if they weren’t prepared to formally charge him so that we could report a clear status and know what to expect, I would be taking him with me to the train station to travel from Heilongjiang to the consulate, which was in Shenyang. They would then have to make a public arrest, which could lead to an incident that would be embarassing since I would be present—or worse. Within 10 minutes, the man was officially arrested, then immediately released on his own recognizance so long as he stayed in his hotel. The process of adjudicating his case finally began, and he was eventually convicted of accidentally start- ing a fire that resulted in fatalities, sentenced to prison, and then paroled four months later. Under the circumstances, this was a most satisfactory outcome, and one achieved through actions and methods that couldn’t be graphed or charted. The Presence of Absence None of the foregoing is by any means a call to stop mea- suring things. There will always be a need for specifics: how many, how long, how expensive, etc. I am, though, urging that we put performance metrics in the proper perspective. They measure progress in some facets of what we do. But it is not the mission. We must stop believing that we can only manage things that we can measure, for it’s just not true. Not only can we manage intangible things like morale, dedication and commitment, but as leaders we must manage them—lest we end up with perfect numbers and failed missions. The imponderables, the things we can’t measure, are like the air we breathe. We can’t see them, but we can see the result of their presence. More importantly, we can feel their absence. n To be successful, an organizationmust get the numbers right. But there are many intangible factors that must also be taken into account.