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MARCH 2016




our out of every 10 first-time executives or

executives in new positions fail or drop out

within the first 18 months. In the For-

eign Service, there is no one clear path to

leadership success. In this article I offer my

top 10 recommendations for professional

advancement. While they are not only for

Foreign Service women, I offer them with

FS women in mind, and with the hope that

sharing practical suggestions based on what I’ve learned about

leadership during the course of a Foreign Service career and

beyond will help set you on the path of a rewarding life and

successful career.

The Foreign Service is a great place for women to become

leaders. Here’s how.





Assert your expectations


Leaders communicate

with intent. It is important to let the system and the

people in the system know what your career expectations are.

Let your supervisors, their supervisors, the personnel system,

the promotion boards and those around you know what you

want, your career ambitions and your expectations. How else

would they know? Occasionally, as a junior officer, I would ask

to meet with senior officers to seek career advice. I would use

those meetings to communicate my desire for a particular posi-

tion, post or assignment. I also used the personal statement

in the annual performance evaluation to let the system know

I desired more responsibility. Once your supervisors and the

system understand your expectations, your ambitions and how

you think of yourself, they respond accordingly with sugges-

tions, assignments and opportunities.



Know your job and exceed performance expec-


Expressions of ambition must be accompa-

nied by a track record of exceeding work performance expecta-

tions and progressive achievement. The higher one ascends,

the more one focuses on systems alignment and intractable

issues and their long-term consequences. If you aren’t crystal

Here is a set of practical recommendations drawn from the experience

of an accomplished USAID Senior Foreign Service officer.


Erin Soto is a former USAID Senior Foreign Service officer,

who served in Latin America, Africa and Asia during a

30-year career. She is the owner of TLC Solutions and the

author of

Sharing Secrets: A Conversation on the Counter-

intuitive Nature of Executive Leadership

(2014). She can be reached at


Ten Leadership Tips

for AspiringWomen