THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
agency talents and resources toward shared goals, the focus had
to turn outward. Before the bombing, transforming policy into
results meant disciplined use of people’s professional skills, not
their staff assistant abilities.
The bombing showed that our Embassy Nairobi Country
Team was in fact a team, not just another name for senior staff.
We suffered a 50-percent casualty rate in the chancery on Aug.
7, 1998. Forty-six employees died, among them 12 Americans,
and literally no one escaped without wounds, many of them
life-changing. Yet it never occurred to any of us to close down
operations. Most American employees decided to remain at
post following the bombing. Kenyans had no choice but to stay.
The lesson that practicing
leadership means getting over
yourself to focus on others
came as a whack upside the
head a few weeks after the
attack. I was asked to speak at
an unexpected remembrance
ceremony for a beloved col-
league. I was burned out from
funerals, memorial services,
anger and sadness. Physically
and emotionally exhausted, I actually felt a stab of resentment.
Whack: This is not about me!
During the Rwandan genocide, it was all about us. Wash-
ington policymakers acknowledged that we were the “world
leader” in the international arena, but when it came to this
crisis, practicing leadership was the last thing we did. We spent
almost all of our time talking about “us”—i.e., what the U.S.
government could/should/would not do. Instead of harnessing
our brainpower to come up with innovative ways of halting a
genocide absent military boots on the
ground—if such a thing is possible—we
argued. Meanwhile, more than 800,000
children, women and men were massa-
cred. When the U.S. did practice lead-
ership—the Marshall Plan is a good
example—results were transformative.
This was not the case in Rwanda, and
President Bill Clinton later apologized.
The best strategies come from
asking good questions and
listening, especially to dis-
I learned the importance of good
questions while doing evacuations and crisis work in the Africa
Bureau. When we were bombed, I had no idea what people
needed in order to survive at ground zero. I was in the building
next door and then at our crisis control center. The survivors
who turned themselves into first responders were the ones with
the information. My job was to understand their reality and
represent their needs. That part never stopped over the next 10
Leadership is “the process whereby one individual influ-
ences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal,” accord-
ing to Peter Northouse in
Leadership: Theory and Practice
2013). I saw it practiced at every level; and at mine, I needed
to get accurate information
and honest feedback. No one
seemed to have a problem
with that, and as a result, we
avoided important mistakes.
Near the end of my tour
in Kenya, I had to informmy
colleagues that we had lost the
argument with Washington
to create a park on the site of
the bombed embassy. It was
leased property from the Kenyan government and would have
to be returned, I advised.
“You can’t do that!” came a voice from the other side of the
room. “Land grabbers will plant another building on the busy
corner,” he continued. “And there will be nothing to commemo-
rate what happened.”
Everyone in the room knew he was right. We made a plan,
encouraged private means to build and maintain a park, and I
lobbied President Daniel arap Moi’s government to donate the
I could not heal a wounded
community, but I could help
create an environment in
which healing was possible.
A view of the wreckage after the Aug. 7, 1998, terrorist bombing of U.S. Embassy Nairobi that left
hundreds dead and wounded.