THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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”
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,
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