The Foreign Service Journal - June 2017
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JUNE 2017


Doing so may have the desired effect of

letting those personal contacts know that

one is “with them” in recognizing that a

given decision is foolhardy, counterpro-

ductive or distasteful. But in the long run,

each of us is a part of one organization,

and this kind of mixed messaging under-

mines our ability to operate effectively.

Our subordinates end up confused

whether to follow the official policy with

focused effort or follow leaders’ tele-

graphed preferences with a slow, mini-

mized effort to check the block. External

contacts don’t know whether to prepare

for and respond to the officially stated

policy or the personally delivered prefer-


As for faithful service under opposed

leaders, this is probably the most difficult

standard. It is clearly permissible to

forward or share a critical news article,

meme or satirical clip, or to use a hashtag

like #resist or #NotMyPresident. And no

one instance of these seemingly trivial

behaviors is going to be seized upon as an

act of insubordination or disloyalty.

But in the aggregate, each of these

things and any number of similar state-

ments and actions clarify a preference.

For anyone in a position to perceive that

preference—from appointed leaders

and managers to members of the voting

public to colleagues and foreign audi-

ences—it inevitably calls into question

the extent to which orders will be fol-

lowed, decisions will be implemented or

the government is working with any unity

of purpose.

For us to engage publicly in either

advocacy or resistance means that we

have an agenda. That perception of a

bureaucracy with its own agenda—as

opposed to one implementing the policies

of the day with indiscriminate diligence,

even when the policies have done a

180-degree turn—will make any future

political leaders with an alternate agenda

view government servants as a problem

rather than a tool.

The bureaucracy should be like a

screwdriver, equally useful to build a

house or a cruise missile. We might hope

we’re used for houses rather than mis-

siles, but until a leader tries to use us to

stab someone rather than turn a screw,

it’s our job to be equally useful

for all tasks.