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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

DECEMBER 2016

7

have written before in this column

about AFSA’s new effort to engage our

members through “structured con-

versations” so that we can build our

advocacy agenda based on a nuanced

understanding of members’ aspirations

and concerns.

Those conversations are ongoing—I

met over lunch last week with two small

groups from USAID, and by the time you

read this, I will have rounded out a series

of lunches with specialist cadres.

In the meantime, AFSA’s new Profes-

sional Policy Issues unit reviewed all the

feedback received in the first round of

structured conversations with the largest

group of AFSA members, namely active-

duty, mid-level State Department FSOs.

One theme that emerged clearly is the

importance of leadership. We heard how

much members value strong, effective

leadership. We also heard how much

“toxic leadership”—a phrase used more

than once—costs members in terms of

commitment, engagement and produc-

tivity. And we heard a strong desire from

mid-level officers for opportunities to

learn how to develop into good leaders

and managers themselves.

This is, in my view, a big deal, a

potential “tipping point” moment for

the State Depart-

ment. State FSOs

have long valued

policy prowess

and the ability to

write well—think

of the reverence

for George Ken-

nan’s “Long Telegram.” But a cultural

change has been taking place at State,

and increasingly members of the Foreign

Service place a high priority on leader-

ship and management excellence, in

themselves and in others.

Here I must tip my hat to the Foreign

Service Institute for its instrumental role

in bringing about this change. As Ruth

Davis fans will know from her September FSJ interview on being named winner of

AFSA’s Lifetime Contributions to Ameri-

can Diplomacy award this year, one of

her proudest achievements was helping

stand up the Leadership and Manage-

ment School at FSI in 2001.

It’s not simply that, as a former dean

of LMS, I’m a cheerleader for leadership

training—which, of course, I am. The

point is this: On the basis of the struc-

tured conversations we’ve held, I can

faithfully report that, far from resenting

or resisting leadership training (which

may be how members of my generation

and before recall prevailing attitudes),

many of today’s mid-level FSOs place

great value on FSI’s leadership and man-

agement training—and they want more

of it.

Some members note that, with mid-

ranks fully staffed for the first time in

decades, the Foreign Service is now in a

position to expand training opportuni-

ties.

One sign of the cultural change taking

place at State is the first-ever Leadership

Day, scheduled for Dec. 13 in the Dean

Acheson Auditorium. At the request of

AFSA’s new—and admittedly nascent—

working group on leadership excellence,

chaired by a Governing Board member

active in the Culture of Leadership Initia-

tive (iLead), I promised to give the event

a plug in my column and urge members

to participate.

For more information about Lead-

ership Day and the work of iLead, a

voluntary group of employees dedicated

to improving leadership throughout the

State Department, go to

www.afsa.org/

leadership.

AFSA recognizes the priority mem-

bers place on fostering strong leader-

ship and management in the Foreign

Service. While bearing in mind the need

to respect lanes and the important work

others are doing, AFSA would like to do

our part to champion leadership excel-

lence.

We are weighing options for doing

just that, such as bringing in speakers to

feed the conversation and perhaps spark

related submissions to the

FSJ

. Another

proposal is to use an online video con-

ferencing service to host a conversation

in early 2017 with members currently

stationed abroad to bring them into the

discussion and point them to resources

they can use to launch leadership groups

at their posts.

As we develop an action plan at AFSA

for doing our part to cultivate leadership

excellence, I encourage you to develop

your own action plan. Participate in

Leadership Day, answer iLead’s call to

share stories of your success improving

leadership where you work, and let us

know your ideas.

n

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

Cultivating Strong Leadership

BY BARBARA STEPHENSON

I

PRESIDENT’S VIEWS