Tenets for Diplomatic Success
Spread the word—publish or be irrelevant: Get the word out quickly and clearly, write concisely and cogently. This could be via cable, note, action memo, thought paper, letter, speech, or tweet – every time you write is a chance to show the clarity of your analysis and to seize the policy-making initiative. When you write something good, share it! A good idea is a better idea when it is shared and a new idea is a better one when it does not surprise anyone above you in the chain of command. Responding quickly is important (see above re seizing the initiative) – write quickly and offer the latest information and analysis. Did I mention speed was important? Write to control the message, publicly and privately.
Get your Clausewitz on: Our DOD partners have lots of energy, tools, and are the leaders when it comes to blowing things up. Make your military partners your friends; there is never too much time you could invest or spend working with your military colleagues. Your goal is to lead our foreign policy efforts and to ensure that any military activity or action is an extension of policy, not a driver of new policy. I know, this is a hard one, but done right, may be the most important way to make good policy and be a successful diplomat.
Run the Interagency, Run the Policy: The interagency is your ally, the NSC is your friend. Maybe that seems counterintuitive to those who have spent hours and days wrestling with the interagency or sought to get through to the NSC. As with the military and DOD, make key interagency colleagues your friends and allies. Before every PCC or interagency meeting, call everyone who will be speaking if possible. If not them, call someone who works for them. Get the word out, send your ideas, try to shape the interagency conversation before the conversation happens. That is our role, to be the leading interagency voice on all things diplomatic.
Press, Press and more Press: Do it right, clearing as needed. Handled correctly, the press can and should be your ally, not your enemy. Remember, anything public is policy and anything policy should be cleared and not surprising. That said, if you are going to err, err on the side of getting your message out and doing it quickly and clearly. Be prepared, be thorough and clear, and your work with the press can help you lead policy.
If Worth Doing, Do it Right and Do it In Person: Travel - when you are a principal, always good to work with your counterparts in person. When you are in the trenches, find a way to meet your colleagues, USG and otherwise, that are in the trenches with you. Seek to do things right, do them in person and build your network so when you write, when you persuade, when you roll out a tough message, you are working with someone you know.
Tell It Like it Is: Tell partners what we are thinking, be strategic in what you share and as transparent as possible. Err on the side of sharing with our closest partners as there are few policies you will develop over the years that will not need help from and/or support from partners and allies. Share and collaborate, improve your ideas by bouncing them off partners when possible.
People Matter—Be on the Best Team: Always best to be on the best team, work with the best people, have a good boss, aim to work for and with good people. Beyond your team, seek dotted line relationships with other offices, seek allies to join your “team” as you develop ideas, chart new paths, initiate new projects. Tell people they are great and then tell them again. Empower people who work for you and with you, ask your team’s opinion. Lead by example –be the best person you can be and your determination and drive will rub off and make your team better.
Making Mistakes is OK: If you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough, you are not being courageous enough, and you are not pushing the envelope. Make mistakes, own up to what you did, fess up and move on. Don’t make the same mistakes multiple times. But again, better to make mistakes than not. Initiative = good.
Look Out!! Keep your eyes and ears open for what can go wrong. Assume the worst from your partners/allies/adversaries and that will help you prepare for when things eventually do go wrong. Go around the horn every morning, issue by issue, country by country, person by person, and think about what could go wrong. Try to mitigate, try to avoid, but mostly, get ready, because things go wrong. That is why we are here, to deal with things when they go wrong. Which they do. Every day, so look out.
Grey Area = Green Light: When in doubt, when guidance is murky, wade in. Seek to take action and initiative. (see making mistakes tenet above!) Consult and coordinate but don’t hesitate to jump in. Always look to create forward momentum or “green lights” through small (or big) ideas.
The Deputy's Checklist
For us apprentices, a DCMship (Deputy Chief Of Mission, or Deputy Ambassador) is a top job many of us shoot for and, if attained, offers a chance to lead a team while representing our country overseas.
Below is a checklist we compiled based on input from the board and from legends that lists the skills and experiences an apprentice diplomat should aim to develop as they build their career and head for a DCM position. The challenge is that many of the skills needed are hard to practice so hope identifying some of the most important will help you chart a path to success as a DCM.
Keep Calm, Keep Safe: In crisis, the DCM is responsible for the team and responsible to keep everyone focused on safety for themselves and for Americans that could be affected by a particular crisis (terror attack, plane crash, weather event, etc). Be ready to calmly assume command immediately and conspicuously. Some, even experienced officers, may not have dealt with a crisis; people react differently to stress. Therefore, the DCM should grab control of communications, planning, AmCit/mission safety, chart next steps - ASAP, through the Emergency Action Committee, reporting to DC and connection to Ops. Your clear and calm action could and should lead the entire team to respond professionally.
Care of Staff: Be ready to invest in the team - barbq/breakfasts/mentoring - this can/should take a lot of time so figure out how to do so according to your skills, availability and the culture at post.
Press: Some dcmships come w an inexperienced press team. Even if not the case, huge help to have had some exposure to press - pay attention to statements, interviews, social media, etc as every word matters and when you are DCM, it is often you who determines our public stance on policy.
Dealing with DC: Hugely important; work on a related desk or in the bureau is invaluable preparation.
Managing Up: Always key; can be especially challenging so take time to prepare by seeking advice from DCMs who have worked for career and political ambassadors alike.
Quasi DCMships: DPO, APP and similar jobs allow you opportunities to develop the skills needed as DCM without requiring a passage through the D committee. Note - good practice, but no dcm training comes with these jobs so make an extra effort to prepare yourself.
Serve in Tough Places: Beyond the fair share requirements, with thousands of officers serving solo and/or dangerous tours, a credible leader and mentor should have served in a tough and/or solo posting.
Multiple Bureaus: One of the key tasks for a DCM is to recruit good people and to help your team find good onward assignments. Experience in multiple bureaus and in DC is critical to being good at this key component of the job.
Multiple Cones: Serving in different cones or at least an IROG position (or POLAD or other non-traditional assignment) helps give credibility and experience to management of a variety of cones and team members from various agencies. Goal should be that your team sees you as “coneless” or equally adept at managing and mentoring teammembers no matter whether they are generalists, specialists, political or econ, or from another agency.
Management of Resources : HR and money—there is more time spent on HR issues and money than expected. Find time to get training, discuss how to deal with tough HR issues, how to find money for representation, travel, OBO, etc
Leadership Tips—Small Things Can Make a Big Difference
Mentorship, coaching and guidance comes in big, inspiring packages and also comes in small moments of generosity and caring.
Below are a few moments the 25YA board have experienced that made us appreciate our mentors and leaders:
With the email “thank you” at times appearing to be Siri-generated, a short, hand-written note can make a long-lasting impression. A number of the board have received notes of thanks or praise that we retain longer than the kudos emails in our EER files.
During one FSO's long-term, serious illness, a senior boss/mentor showed support in many ways, big and small, sending frequent notes, care packages and offering a friendly ear. Several senior leaders also took the time to send notes or call. It sounds small, but it meant a lot during a tumultuous time for the FSO and his family. It showed him the State Dept had his back and he was part of something bigger.
One boss bought gifts for a handful of officers and offices after a particularly intense period accompanied by a hand-written note of thanks.
An Ambassador took pictures with each employee as they were leaving post to keep as a memento (similar to what POTUS does for NSC/WH employees)
Working in a job in DC with lots of interaction with the top 7th floor leadership, will always remember one senior diplomat who remembered staff members names despite limited interaction and no chain of command or management need to do so.
The board has observed that most/many/all good leaders and mentors will take time to have a coffee or a meal. Ask them!
Quick, short responses to anything someone spent time on for you. It's astounding to me how many emails, especially to a group, get zero acknowledgement - even when it is clear someone took time to send something useful (or even thought was useful). A simple "thanks" goes a long way. Highly effective with cables (quick note to drafter and boss), too, as they are often arrows shot into darkness.