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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

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JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2017

23

Policy crises and human crises in faraway places—the stuff of diplomacy today—

offer compelling lessons in leadership.

BY PRUDENCE BUSHNE L L

Prudence Bushnell’s career in the Foreign Service in-

cluded leadership positions as deputy assistant secretary

of State for African affairs (1993-1996), ambassador to

Kenya (1996-1999) and Guatemala (1999-2002), and

dean of the Leadership and Management School at the Foreign

Service Institute (2002-2005). She now promotes the practice of

leadership through talks and workshops among a range of people,

including senior executives and college students. In 2012, Ambas-

sador Bushnell founded the Levitt Leadership Institute at Hamilton

College in Clinton, New York.

W

elcome to the new

team. Whatever hap-

pens under your leader-

ship and on your watch,

you can count on policy

crises and human crises

in faraway places. Dur-

ing my own career, the

1994 Rwanda genocide

and the 1998 al-Qaida bombing of our embassies in Kenya and

Tanzania left compelling leadership lessons that may be useful

to you.

I witnessed the genocide from a policy chair as a deputy

assistant secretary in the Africa Bureau and experienced the

FOCUS

NOTES TO THE NEW ADMINISTRATION

bombing when I served as U.S. ambassador in Nairobi, Kenya.

Neither event provoked congressional hearings or interagency

after-action reviews. The political imperative is to move swiftly

past failure, and the Department of State lacks the tradition of

appreciative inquiry.

It took the 9/11 attacks to reveal national security and law

enforcement weaknesses that could have been addressed in

1998. Echoes of the report of the Accountability Review Board’s

limited scrutiny of the East Africa bombings can be found in the

Benghazi Accountability Review Board’s 2013 report, including

the need for better leadership at several levels.

I joined the Foreign Service with a background in manage-

ment training and left as a leadership practitioner with strong

field experience. I continue to promote leadership in federal

government and refer to Rwanda and Nairobi as events that

shaped me as a leader. Here is what I learned.

1

Leadership is not about you.

From a top spot in a hierar-

chical organization known for its “kiss-up, kick-down” cul-

ture, it was tempting to think I was practicing leadership

by showing up and issuing brilliant commands. Especially as

ambassador, it was easy to make the job all about me. However,

if I wanted an effective team capable of applying individual and

SEVEN

LEADERSHIP LESSONS

One Story,

Two Events,