The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 15

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
DECEMBER 2013
15
reports, in the finest style possible, that cite
strings of performance awards.
As a result, failure tomanage one’s
career in a way that maximizes the chances
of rapid promotion, and simply trusting
the systemon its own to reward one’s
performance, can now lead to premature
retirement.
Getting Due Credit
Apart from sensational kidnappings
or assassinations that occasionally grab
the news headlines, it would appear that
congressional and public opinion does
not yet sufficiently appreciate howmany
American diplomats serve in the line of fire
in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and
many other conflict zones.
Nor do they realize how often American
diplomats deal over their career with truly
difficult foreign leaders and complicated
situations that help qualify them as better
judges of what foreign policies to follow or
avoid. This encourages the impression that
just about any bright person can become
an effective diplomat, even if only for a
short assignment or two.
So how do we mark bright Foreign
Service officers as more skilled in foreign
affairs than those in politics or other
professions? One can cite the competence
gained over time spent doing the job and
make better efforts to describe the compli-
cations of that job to our target audiences.
One could also point to the selectivity of
appointment into, and promotion within,
an elite with special professional duties
and requirements. And finally, perhaps
one should spotlight the professionally
communal, selfless behavior of Foreign
Service personnel who do their jobs in
life-threatening situations—a quality not
usually shared by most of those outsiders.
That said, we cannot overlook the
importance of identifying those individu-
als who become exceptionally good at a
particular skill over the course of a career.
Two examples much lauded in recent
years are the ability tomanage overseas
missions, and skill at coordinating foreign
policy for an American president or Secre-
tary of State at home.
Those individuals who are specially
gifted in these respects are likely tomake it
to the top whatever the promotion system;
they do not need an up-or-out system to
push out their colleagues.
Undo the HarmWe’ve
Done to Ourselves
It is clear that the Foreign Service must
focus on its ongoing difficulties and undo
some of the harm it has done to itself.
Here are a few ideas for doing so.
First, seriously slow down (if not elimi-
nate) the forced retirement of mid-career
and senior officers. This might be done by
changing the rules, or indeed by changing
the law.
Second, give the annual promotion
boards—as well as supervisory offi-
cers writing the annual reports, both in
Washington and at posts abroad—instruc-
tions to reward team effort. This means
taking notice of those ready to improve
their skills through training assignments
and those who help to trainmore junior
colleagues, rather than simply concentrat-
ing on those holding the most glamorous
jobs.
The bottom line should be this: How
well have they served the needs of the
country, and done the particular jobs
assigned to them in the Service, over
several postings?
Third, let us also remember that before
officers can learn tomanage well, be they
young prodigies or late bloomers, they
must understand what will work in the
world beyond America’s borders. (That
is, after all, the core requirement that
qualifies people for the jobs of the Foreign
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