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MAY 2015



a little more research and observation. Which processes run

smoothly and why? Are the people doing the less “sexy” jobs like

grants management, accounting, customer service and adminis-

trative support given their due?

Perhaps even more importantly, do your Foreign Service

colleagues get the recognition they deserve? In a hyper-compet-

itive, walk-on-water organization like ours, some genuine peer

recognition can go a long way to boost morale and productivity.

Learn from Those with Institutional Knowledge

Locally employed staff, Civil Service members and contrac-

tors are essential to the functioning of the Foreign Service. Dur-

ing my tour in Managua, I learned more about the embassy from

the senior custodian and motor pool supervisor than from any-

one else in the mission. In the Bureau of International Informa-

tion Programs, the Civil Service and contractors have served as a

vital continuity mechanism despite frequent reorganizations.

We may complain about facing a promotion bottleneck, but

what about our locally employed staff colleagues, who frequently

face pay freezes, currency devaluation and other setbacks yet

continue to support our missions around the world? Have you

been to a locally employed staff association meeting? Do you

know the names of the contracting companies that support your


Master Your Craft

The mid-level years are the time to achieve mastery over the

work of your career track, learn the art of “completed staff work”


), develop

strong programmanagement skills and practice leading teams.

Straddling the boundaries between followership and leadership,

while precarious at times, can also open new avenues for per-

sonal and professional development. Seeking an in-cone men-

tor, gathering peers in the same career track and helping locally

employed staff members to understand the hows and whys of

U.S. policy are all great opportunities to develop as an officer.

Are you the person that everyone wants to be a control officer

or a site officer for visits and special events? Why or why not?

How closely is your professional development following the

language of the employee evaluation report precepts? Speaking

of EERs, how many of the programs for which you were lauded

on your past EERs are still in effect today?

Confront Corridor Rep Gossip with Kindness

A friend of mine retold an adage she’d heard from a Senior

FSO: “The EER system doesn’t work, so all we can do is gossip to

keep bad people from getting good jobs.” Organizations inevi-

tably discuss individuals informally, as is the case at State; but

employees can avoid the toxicity of gossip by asking thoughtful

questions when negative chatter and speculation arises.

Better to try to understand and measure the perceived

negative actions against State’s leadership principles and core

values, than to descend into conversations that will hurt others.

Avoid the “let me give you a call” moments (when employees

do not want to put anything negative in an email) by construc-

tively describing fellow employees instead of bashing them. If

we must gossip, let us gossip about the great things that people

are doing. Sure, it’s not as intriguing, but it will strengthen our


Don’t Wait to Practice Leadership

In an organization that only requires three leadership

courses, it is a vital imperative for grassroots groups to join forces

and better the Service through peer-led discussions and case

studies. Until our organization focuses more on leadership, it’s

up to the mid-level employees to improve things from within.

Find peers who also want to make the department a better

place to work. Go beyond the brown bag and seek to chal-

lenge each other professionally. Measure your discussions

against the department’s new leadership principles, and hold

your supervisors accountable to the organization. It’s okay

to express a healthy sense of outrage in the face of egregious

offenses such as yelling at employees, practicing “kiss up and

kick down” and spreading “D.C. doesn’t care about us” apathy,

among others.

This trio can seriously compromise the Service. The harm of

yelling is obvious; kiss up, kick down is more subtle, but still a

tremendous problem and one that many feel sheepish to even

identify, much less fight against. And “D.C. doesn’t care about

us” can bring entire missions to their knees (conversely, an

empowered officer who fights against that mentality can really

shake things up).

Targeting these behaviors may seem a bit edgy, but we need to

be that way if we want to encourage the healthy sense of owner-

Until our organization focuses

more on leadership, it’s up to the

mid-level employees to improve

things fromwithin.