The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 50

n August 2013, a month after AFSA’s new Governing Board
took office, AFSA President Robert J. Silverman asked me to
chair a working group that would formulate a set of guide-
lines for successful performance by chiefs of mission.
Having served twice as an ambassador during my three-
decade Foreign Service career, I know just how vital it is to
ensure that each chief of mission is well-qualified to serve
as the president’s representative to a foreign government or
multilateral institution. As
the face and voice of the
United States, he or she
sets the tone for opera-
tions within the mission.
Indeed, it is not going too
far to say that a chief of mission’s performance can often spell
the difference between success and failure of U.S. policy in the
country of assignment, and can affect bilateral and regional
relations long after the incumbent has left post.
With that in mind, our goal was to produce a resource to
inform the process of selecting the leaders of our diplomatic
missions around the world. Earlier this year, after vigorous
debate, the AFSA Governing Board formally adopted the docu-
ment our working group produced.
Given the sensitivity of the subject, and the magnitude of
the task, it is understandable that not every AFSAmember
agrees with all our recommendations. (Indeed, the same could
be said of our committee, and of the AFSA Governing Board.)
The purpose of this Issue Brief is to explain the process we fol-
lowed, in hopes of dispelling any confusion or misconceptions.
The Role of Leadership
To facilitate the development of guidelines that would be
widely accepted by everyone involved in the selection process,
our working group consisted of retired ambassadors from the
career Foreign Service, as well as non-career appointees from
both major political parties. We also reached out to people out-
side the working group, many of whose suggestions influenced
the final document. (You’ll find the
We all agreed that keeping the number of criteria to three
or four made for a document that would be relatively easy to
understand and apply in assessing COM nominees. The chal-
lenge was to agree on that
list of criteria, and decide
whether to prioritize any of
In addition, the guide-
lines needed to be rela-
tively simple, and crafted so they could be used to assess any
nominee, regardless of background.
My research for preparing the initial draft used the Foreign
Service Act of 1980 as its foundation. However, it turned out
that a trait I view as essential to success is not listed there;
nor has it ever been formally considered in the ambassado-
rial selection process. That is leadership ability. To be sure,
that skill is mentioned in some operational documents, but
nowhere could I find any indication that it has been part of the
formal review process for potential nominees.
In addition to managing bilateral relations, the COMmust
lead the country team, ensure the security of mission staff,
and manage the mission’s budget and other resources. While
it is true that there are professionals within each diplomatic
mission to deal with these issues, the ultimate responsibility
for proper management rests with the person at the top. That,
then, became the central thesis of my draft.
Achieving Consensus
Bringing 10 former chiefs of mission together was the easy
part of the job. Getting that many strong-willed, experienced
Charles A. Ray retired from the Foreign Service in 2012 after a 30-year career that included ambassadorships to Cambodia
and Zimbabwe. Ambassador Ray also served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for prisoners of war/missing personnel
affairs, deputy chief of mission in Freetown and consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, among many other assignments. Prior to
joining the Foreign Service, Ambassador Ray spent 20 years in the U.S. Army. He is the outgoing chair of AFSA’s Professional-
ism and Ethics Committee, and does freelance writing and speaking.
Our goal was to produce a resource to
inform the process of selecting the leaders
of our diplomatic missions around the world.
Evolution of the Chief-of-Mission Guidelines
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