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Leadership Seminar Day 3

Below - some FSI buildings

FSI building Oct 2008 

Some of the same themes came up with today’s speakers.  The big one might be taken from the “Wizard of Oz” - you are not in Kansas anymore.   The things that got us to this position will not necessarily sustain us in our new jobs.    In our old jobs, we avoided risks to get ahead and worked in a stable environment.   In the new world, we have to produce positive change and be able to understand how our operations fit into the bigger world.   My experience with big changes is that they usually are not ... so big that is, but we will see.

Anyway, this is not new to me.  I remember learning it way back in business school when we read Henry Mintzberg, Peter Drucker and Tom Peters on organizations.   Most of my business literature I read since re leadership said the same sorts of things.  It is good to see that this long-ago education still makes sense.    We also heard the familiar ideas re management by walking around.  I read that first in 1983 in “In Search of Excellence,” but it is always good to get confirmation.

We also got some State Department specific information, referencing a Mckinsey study on the “War for Talent,” which warned that State had to do more to recruit and hold top-quality employees.   One finding was that junior officers didn’t trust or much respect high level officers.  Maybe that was because high-level officers paid so little attention to them.  According to the study, only 30% of high State officers considered developing talent a high priority, compared with 76% of the high executives in the private sector.   One of the speakers commented that perhaps the private leader talked the talk but maybe didn’t walk the walk, but State leaders thought talent development had such low priority that they didn’t even bother to lie to pollsters about it.   The School of Leadership & Management was created in 1999 to try to address some of the deficiencies, but it really got going a couple years later with Colin Powell’s diplomatic readiness initiative.

When we talked about Secretaries of State who were good for State, two names came up repeatedly:  Colin Powell & George Schultz.  I agree.   I don’t have the high-level knowledge to back that up with statistics, but I know that morale was good during the Schultz times when I came into the FS.  Conditions were abysmal during the 1990s and improve a lot when Colin Powell came in. Condoleezza Rice has valued the professional members of State in the practical area of jobs and there have been more career than political appointees in the higher levels.   I hadn’t really paid attention to that, but now that I think about it when I was in Washington in the late 1990s there were a lot more political appointees hanging around.   The guy leading IIP used to be a political appointee as were many of the regional guys.  Now they are professional.  Career appointees are a good thing from my point of view, although I have seen many good political appointees and some bad professional ones.

We also talked about resources.   State has been resource poor for as long as anybody can remember.  It got worse during the early 1990s when we opened many posts in the former Soviet Union w/o getting more resources and worse still with the cuts and post closings of the middle 1990s.  (State almost closed my post in Krakow at that time, and thye DID close Poznan & Porto Alegre).  It looked like conditions might improve after 2000, but then our resources got sucked into Iraq and Afghanistan.   I think State has lots of challenges and places where diplomacy can add value, but we really cannot do it on the cheap.  I have no solution.

I also got back my 360 degree evaluations.  There were no big surprises, but I wonder how valid it is.   We name our own respondents.   I tried to get a “random” sample, but it is not really possible.  Most of the time you only get 7-10 people filling in the forms.  There is no statistical validity.  That is no problem IF we recognize that it is more of a guideline and ignore the precise looking statistics.   The most useful parts of the survey are the open-ended comments.  Some people make them; others don't.


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