Stepping Forward to Lead

President's Views


Immediately after being sworn in as AFSA president on July 15, I turned and administered the new Oath of Office to the incoming AFSA Governing Board. We promised to do our best to represent all members of the American Foreign Service so that we can strengthen the ability of the foreign affairs community to contribute to effective foreign policies.

In a stroke of serendipity, our next act, just minutes later, was to receive the 183rd A-100 class at AFSA headquarters, welcome them to our profession and invite them to join AFSA—the voice of the Foreign Service. They, and indeed the new USAID class I welcomed a few days later, reminded me of myself when I entered the Foreign Service almost 30 years ago—brimming with pride at having been chosen and eager to serve my country on a global stage.

I know AFSA State Vice President Angie Bryan was similarly impressed when she welcomed nearly 90 new specialists to AFSA on July 30. As Angie writes in her column for AFSA News this month, the good news is that the Foreign Service is attracting and hiring the top talent we need for our vitally important work.

Our challenge is to make sure the career path offered by the Foreign Service is attractive enough to keep this talent across a full career—hence my commitment to a strategic, comprehensive look at the Foreign Service workforce.

One of my key goals as AFSA president will be to ensure a healthy, attractive career path for members of the next generation so that, whatever their cone or specialty, they have the same chance that I did to grow and develop into Foreign Service leaders.

Please count on me to do my very best to make the Foreign Service stronger so we can lead America’s foreign policy and deliver for the American people.

I spoke to the A-100 class, as I will speak to everyone during my tenure as AFSA president, of the extraordinary demands that are made of the extraordinary people who answer the call to serve. As part of our pledge to worldwide availability, we in the Foreign Service willingly agree—in fact work hard to prevail in a highly competitive selection process—to take on a career that requires us to serve in remote corners of the globe, often in unsafe and unhealthy conditions of genuine hardship, where good schools for our kids and decent jobs for our spouses are scarce.

We willingly agree to rotate jobs every two to three years as part of our competitive up-or-out promotion system. While that means that we never get to settle comfortably in a job and a place we love, we know that this is the path to the broad range of experience we need to grow as Foreign Service professionals and prepare to lead America’s foreign policy.

Ours is a remarkable story of service, of delivering for our country in the face of unique challenges. I want us to own that story, to take pride and find strength in it, and to share it with the American people.

In the coming months, you will hear more from me about an enhanced outreach effort to tell our story and stepped-up efforts to mentor and develop the next generation as well as to support those at mid- and senior-levels.

These, along with my pledge to take a comprehensive, strategic look at workforce planning, form the core of my vision for my tenure as president.

Please count on me to do my very best to make the Foreign Service stronger so we can lead America’s foreign policy and deliver for the American people. I welcome your feedback and will need your help, and I thank all of you who have already stepped forward to volunteer to pitch in.

I now invite you to find inspiration in this edition of The Foreign Service Journal, “Honoring Those Who Make a Difference.”

Ambassador Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.