The Foreign Service Journal, November 2023

AFSA NEWS Tackling Global Strategic Challenges as a Servant Leader STATE VP VOICE | BY HUI JUN TINA WONG AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202)-647-8160 this model of leadership ourselves. Imagine the revolution in the novel kinds of healthy, vibrant, and productive embassy, consulate, office, or unit culture we could build together by using this model. No matter what rank or role you play in our institution, modeling the universal qualities of a servant leader would greatly reduce workplace conflicts, increase productivity, encourage creativity, and make everyone happier. As another Foreign Service officer mentor shared, “Good leadership allows us to spend less time competing with each other, and more time competing with China.” Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation defines the Servant Leadership Theory, offering the following qualities of a servant leader: Listening—a commitment to listening intently to others, coupled with periods of reflection. Empathy—an effort to understand, empathize with, and accept others. Healing—a focus on helping others overcome emotional wounds and aid in a search for wholeness. Awareness—general awareness and self-awareness, which contribute to an understanding of issues related to power, ethics, and values. Persuasion—in contrast to authoritarian leadership, convincing others based on the merit of arguments rather than on coercion or manipulation. Conceptualization—the ability to think beyond day-today realities and dream big. Foresight—ability to understand lessons from the past, present day realities, and the likely future consequences of any decision. Stewardship—behaving with the understanding that one has been entrusted with running the organization for the greater good of society. Commitment to the growth of people—the belief that people have “an intrinsic value beyond their intangible contributions as workers” leads to a strong commitment to individual growth. Building community—a desire to create true community within the organization and other institutions. With Deputy Secretary Richard Verma’s timely launch of the department’s first “learning policy”—which includes a core curriculum, 40 voluntary hours of dedicated learning, and expanded use of individual development plans—I ask our members to share stories and best practices of how they nurture these qualities in themselves and within their teams. To support this expanded learning, we should develop a resource pool to upskill our workforce not just in the limited sense of developing the responsibilities and skills for managing teams, but to equip our employees to lead people, both formally and informally, in ways that create forward thinkers and inspire each team member to pull others up throughout the ranks. We need to create the kind of workplace transformation that moves away from a boss-employee relationship focused solely on achieving specific transactional goals or performance measures to a place where we are inculcating a culture of authenticity, listening to and seeing others from their perspectives. While we are not yet there, AFSA is excited to be on this journey, partnering up with various parts of the department to retrain, reskill, and upskill our workforce and get closer to that vision. Write me at with your ideas and stories of servant leadership, and let’s make this transformation happen, one day at a time. n Modeling the universal qualities of a servant leader would greatly reduce workplace conflicts, increase productivity, encourage creativity, and make everyone happier. 60 NOVEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL As I listened to Secretary Blinken’s seminal Brzezinski lecture at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies on Sept. 13, I reflected on the qualities of leadership needed to face our next century of global challenges. The Secretary urged us to build, equip, upskill, and retain our cadre of Foreign Service members deployed to advance American diplomacy at this historic time of great power competition. To do this, I believe we must evolve from bosses and supervisors to “servant leaders.” The concept of servant leadership is as old as the stories in the Old Testament. The term itself was coined by former AT&T executive Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader,” in which he described the best leaders as focused on serving others first. Although I rarely hear this term used to describe any department leader these days, I think it is important to dissect the idea of the servant leader and to consider striving toward Leadership starts with listening, and understanding shared problems from the perspective of others. —Secretary Antony Blinken, Sept. 13, 2023