The Foreign Service Journal - October 2015
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hose of you who worked withme

inmy previous role as dean of

the Leadership andManagement

School at the Foreign Service

Institute may well have heardme talk

about what good Foreign Service leaders

do when they arrive at their new job.

They consult intensively with stake-

holders to form an assessment (Is this ship

on course, off course, or sinking?) and to

forge a vision for the years ahead (What is

the best we can do in this situation, with

the resources we have, to deliver for the

people who put us here?).

The next step: rally the troops behind

the vision. Then, remove obstacles to

achieving the vision and align resources

behind it. Finally, celebrate success and

reward your people.

As I write, about seven weeks after tak-

ing office, we are well into the first phase

of forming an assessment and refining the

vision, while moving smartly into the effort

to align resources behind it. As president of

AFSA and chair of the Governing Board—

and as a big believer in transparency and

accountability as foundations of good

governance—I want to share my initial

assessment with you, the people who put

us here.

Bottom line: The state of our asso-

ciation is strong.

AFSA has 16,500

members, includ-

ing almost 80 per-

cent of all active-

duty members of

the Foreign Service.

Our finances are sound: AFSA has just

come through the annual outside audit

with the highest organizational rating.

Efforts by the previous Governing

Board and staff improved internal AFSA

governance by creating written operating

procedures reflecting best practices. With

nearly 40 dedicated professionals on the

staff, AFSA is well positioned to deliver on

the vision of making the Foreign Service

stronger in fact and in reputation.

That vision is undergirded by the three

pillars I outlined inmy first column. While

the effort to refine the vision is still under-

way, I offer this update in the hope that

the benefits of modeling transparency and

inviting thoughtful collaboration outweigh

the risks of communicating prematurely.

Comprehensive workforce planning


The desired outcome is a cohesive, robust,

resilient, confident Foreign Service fit to

lead America’s foreign policy through

the challenging decades ahead, as power

becomes more diffuse (less concentrated

in U.S. government hands) and the already

rapid pace of change accelerates. To effec-

tively advance America’s foreign policy

interests in the face of these challenges, we

in the Foreign Service will need to up our

collective game.

We are pulling together a comprehen-

sive picture of our workforce and look

forward to sharing that overview with

you, our members—who are by definition

stewards of the Foreign Service. We are

simultaneously working with manage-

ment to address short-term challenges in

a way that delivers on the long-term goal

of a strong, resilient, confident Foreign


Finally, to guide the effort, we are

formulating a programof benchmarking

to glean and then share best practices so

that members of the Foreign Service can

be informed and articulate about how to

apply these best practices to the gover-

nance of our own organization, the Foreign


Outreach to tell our proud story to the

American people.

Our goal is to increase

awareness about, and favorable views of,

the Foreign Service among the American


In strategic terms, we are looking at ele-

ments of the message that most resonate,

and we are weighing whether to narrow

our target audience to key states. In practi-

cal terms, we are seeking funding to sup-

port this effort, which we envision having

twomajor components—a retiree-driven

effort complemented by an outreach pro-

gram featuring Foreign Service members

on active duty.

Inreach to our members.

In this third

pillar of work, which ties back to the

benchmarking effort in the first pillar, we

seek to spark and sustain a structured

discussion about issues affecting our pro-

fession. I want you, AFSA’s members, to be

fully engaged and informed, knowledge-

able about best practices and prepared

to advocate for good governance in the

Foreign Service.

I welcome your feedback and your

ideas. You can reachme at Stephenson@



Ambassador Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.

Setting Our Course