An Activist's Top Ten
Make every word count.
Make every word work for you – everything (letter, spray, statement, speech, cable, memo) you send forward is an opportunity to advance policy and your perspective.
Express Ideas Simply, Clearly.
Distill idea/proposal to three/four points, to a plan, a one pager.
Use this page/plan as a starting point to be fine-tuned by all parties. People can then agree on same idea, same way forward.
Make your Idea their Idea.
Theft of idea is good - increases chance it will work. Encourage thievery!
Lean in, Show some [policy] Leg.
Can't make diplomatic magic without pushing the envelope.
Explain Idea with Maps/Pictures/Basic Charts.
Make idea/plan clear – eg use a simple map or chart– push shared understanding of battle lines; energy – sell a pipeline plan.
Create/impose proper/common understanding.
Calendar is Your Friend.
Use dates/events/calendar to push for action.
Determine you need X by Y date/event. Convince people of the need and the way to achieve.
Then easier to get people “all aboard”
Think of every meeting as a chance to move policy forward. Why else are you meeting if not?
If no Press, Did the Tree Fall?
Don't get caught up in war and politics and forget econ. Prosperity matters!
Next generation, entrepreneurship, hope – always should be part of the conversation.
Room for creativity here – private sector has ideas, resources.
Make Everyone your Advocate.
Foreign interlocutors, the Hill, NSC, UN, EU, press, etc – persuade, help them understand, help them push the right policy.
Don’t be Cautious.
Try. Mess up. Try again.
An Activist's Leadership Arc
A foreign service career has two ten-year increments (three if you're lucky enough to make the senior service). During the first ten years you learn obedience. Show up on time, don't talk back to senators, write well and quickly, disappoint your kids because the deputy exec sec told you to stay late on a particularly important evening. If you aren't sufficiently obedient, you won't succeed. Then: during the second ten years, you learn disobedience, or at least, how not to get into trouble by creative interpretation of tasks. If, in your second ten years, you're still obedient, you won't succeed. You need to learn to color outside the lines in order to be effective, especially when the stakes are high and the guidance is vague.
Then: if after 20 years you're merely being successfully disobedient, they select you out. (Euphemism alert: they fire you.) The only way to qualify for that third ten-year increment is to show leadership, something that your first twenty years has not prepared you for. Military officers command people a few years into their career. A sage and experienced director at the NSC commands no one. How do you learn leadership when they don't teach it? You emulate. You work for an Assistant Secretary or Ambassador you admire, and mimic him or her. If you're lucky, you pick the right person and the habits you develop vault you into the senior service and you get to join an elite club: those who sign letters but don't write them (as opposed to the first twenty years of your career, in which you write letters but don't sign them).