2012 Consular Leadership Day Theme: Follow Courageously, Just Not Peter Van Buren

The Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) recently announced its new leadership theme for 2012 which is “Follow Courageously.” CA, of course, is the home bureau of some of our consular officers who offended the tigers with their blogs — MLC, Peter Van Buren, to name a couple. Others will remain unnamed in this blog, no sense dragging the blog carcasses out in the open.  The consular officers are natural targets; they are some with the most interesting stories in the Foreign Service.  But it’s a love/hate relationship, see? Anyway, one of our friends inside the Big House excitedly told us this year’s theme of following courageously.
I said, hey, what does “Follow Courageously” mean?  Here is what I’m told:

The CA Leadership Tenets describe it as the ability to “take ownership of our work and hold ourselves accountable for improving performance and making our organization stronger,” and to “dissent respectfully and help the boss become more effective in the interest of the team and the mission.” 

So if you use bad, undiplomatic words in following your conscience, that’s probably not following courageously? You should be able to swear without opening your mouth. You should also be able to rock the boat without getting anyone wet.  What else?

Following courageously does not mean following blindly.  In this day of limited resources, growing workload, and changing circumstances that drive our ability to respond to new challenges, we all need to follow courageously – and that can take many different approaches. 

Following courageously includes challenging the status quo in favor of exploring new, more efficient ways to work – whether enlisting new technologies, changing business processes, or even delegating certain tasks to others.

CA/P has led the way on social media, using tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to engage stakeholders and customers in new and exciting ways.  Many have proposed, either in FSI classes, via cables, or in forums such as CA Leads, the Sounding Board, ACS  , and VOxPopuli, innovative solutions to improve processes.  For Consular Leadership Day 2012, employees are invited to think about the many ways the section, office, or agency has followed courageously and pushed the status quo envelope. 

Challenge the status quo, but not/not in your blog, silly.  No mention of Blogger, WordPress — either those are not exciting tools or they are dangerous engagement tools. So what do you do if you want to “follow courageously,” and “dissent respectfully” and waaaahhhhhh, excuse me, but no one, NO ONE is listening?

“Following courageously often means speaking truth to power, especially when the message is unwelcome.  Many of us have faced instances when we had to deliver bad news to our bosses, or push back against a decision that was contrary to consular law or policy.  It isn’t easy, and some bosses simply don’t want to hear dissenting views, no matter how respectfully presented.  Failure to report problems, however, means they just get worse.  Offices that do not allow, and even encourage, respectful dissent only undermine their own effectiveness.  Successful offices create an environment where employees know they can raise issues safely and be taken seriously – and that management will work with them to remedy problems.  As an organization, do you encourage people to speak up about problems and explore solutions?  How do you follow courageously with those above your work unit?  How can you encourage them to create an environment where respectful dissent is given appropriate attention?”

Nice words but really, in which State Department sector is this real?  And when you are not working in a “successful office” what then?  What happens when you report certain problems and the tigers bite your head off?  Is there anyone in CA who would be willing to loan the courageous follower a Scottish targe or shield for protection from incoming projectiles? My CA friend, unfortunately does not have the answers.

“Following courageously can mean recognizing and nurturing someone who is a leader without rank – that person who is the “power of one” within your section, office, or agency.  You know the type – someone who is a ten-star leader, the “go to” person who gets things done, and is always thinking about what should happen, not just what does happen.  It is not always easy for more senior managers to acknowledge and promote the leadership role of these employees, but the best managers will follow courageously themselves, and put the good of the organization first.”

“Following courageously can mean thinking holistically about how we work, creating a “one-team” approach, and achieving economies of scale that maximize the use of scarce resources.  Consular Team India’s example of assigning specific country-wide responsibilities to a consulate, or the functional cross-training that occurs in so many posts, are only a few ways that posts are making better use of their resources.  

I said, hey, where are these ten-star leaders? Are they in India; I mean, why the special mention? Either they are in India or the consular bureau favorites insiders are now in India.
Thus it was made clear to us that following courageously can take many forms. But I am certain that it does not include writing a book like you know who. 

I mean, did you know that they took away his desk, and his badge, and he’s not even allowed to play with paper clips? If he ever gets back to Foggy Bottom, there is a bar of Lifeboy soap with his name on it.  Anyway, I heard that he got away with a Skillcraft pen, so he’s still writing and doing things and giving folks migraine. But that’s a blessing in disguise, the migraine, that is; there is something that beautifully treats migraine — Botox! An Indian cosmetologist promised, “A few prick jabs are like god’s gift for the chronic migraine patients.”

Folks, the migraine line starts over there. Follow courageously and stay quiet.

Pardon me?  No, there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that Consular Leadership Day has been renamed Peter Van Buren Day. 

Peace Corps Returns to Nepal; Withdraws from Honduras Without a Splash

Logo of the United States Peace Corps.                           Image via WikipediaOn January 17, the US Embassy in Kathmandu announced the return of the Peace Corps to Nepal after a seven year absence.  The announcement coincided with an event hosted by Prime Minister Bhattarai at his office in Singha Durbar and by Ambassador DeLisi at his residence. According to the embassy, the first group of approximately 20 Peace Corps volunteers is scheduled to arrive in Nepal later this year:

“The U.S. Agency for International Development’s collaboration with Peace Corps will build on the strengths and strategies of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives partnership with Nepal to reach and impact many more vulnerable Nepalese across the country.  The volunteers will be trained as Agriculture and Nutrition Extensionists and will work with rural communities to improve food security and health of the Nepalese people in the context of the two Presidential Initiatives in Nepal.

The photos from the two events can be found at Flickr.  See also the embassy statement, and the Peace Corps announcement.

The bigger news, of course was the withdrawal of the Peace Corps from Honduras this week.  On January 16, the Peace Corps pulled out all volunteers from Honduras.  According to CBS, neither U.S. nor Honduran officials have said what specifically prompted them to withdraw the 158 Peace Corps volunteers. The report also notes that this is the first time Peace Corps mission have been withdrawn from Central America since civil wars swept the region in the 1970s and 1980s.

On December 21, Peace Corps released the following statement:

The Peace Corps is conducting an ongoing review of the security environment in Honduras, and has cancelled its next volunteer training class while this review is being conducted.

All 158 currently serving volunteers are safe and accounted for and will participate in a conference in January before returning to the United States on administrative leave. Peace Corps will review the safety and security climate in Honduras before continuing with volunteer operations.

“The safety and security of all Peace Corps volunteers is the agency’s highest priority,” said Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams. “During this time, we are going to conduct a full review of the program. We thank the people of Honduras for their strong support of Peace Corps over the years.”

But unlike the return of the Peace Corps to Nepal, one can’t really tell what’s going on if you look up US Embassy Honduras or the Peace Corps Honduras website.  Both are also on Facebook. Ambassador Kubiske herself is on Twitter. But nowhere is the departure of the Peace Corps volunteers mentioned, not even in warden messages to American citizens. Go ahead, take a look:

Peace Corps media arm has statements on a Peace Corps volunteer building a new clinic in Cameroon, on the Peace Corps return to Nepal, and PCVs leading 4 spelling bees in Armenia the last week alone, but absolutely nothing on the withdrawal of its volunteers from Honduras.

It’s like if you don’t mention it, it did not happen ….

According to CBS, on Jan. 24, 2011, a Peace Corps volunteer was robbed and raped near the village of Duyure in southern Honduras. Three men were reportedly found guilty of rape and robbery in that case, according to an employee of the regional court in the southern city of Choluteca who was not authorized to be quoted by name.

An entry in Peace Corps journals indicates that one of the volunteers in Honduras was also shot in an assault on a bus in early December.  After the announcement that Peace Corps was suspending Honduras’ February 2012 training group, a PCV notes:

“It has been two weeks since one of our volunteers here was shot in an assault on a bus, and this is the first e-mail that we have receive that really says anything. After two weeks of all of us volunteers e-mailing, texting, and calling each other talking about how we thought Peace Corps Honduras handled the situation with the injured volunteer, and what we thought was going to come of it all, it is nice to see some action being taken.”

As the incident was called “a tragic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” another PCV reacts:

“Where my problem comes in with all of this, in my opinion, is the fact that Peace Corps is treating this incident as if the volunteer had been in a car accident or something more along those lines – something that was completely out of Peace Corps or Honduras‘s control. But, no, she was on a bus… this is a matter of Honduras being the most dangerous country in the world (that is not currently in a war), but it is as if Peace Corps Honduras doesn’t want to own up to that. In one of the e-mials, admin said “If we learn anything that would result in a need to change policy or travel guidance we will communicate that straight away.” So, as a result of this accident, their response is that they might just need to make another policy change. It seems to me that this is their response to everything – make another rule or policy change that will help to avoid situations like this in the future, but for this particular incident, I don’t think there is really anything that can be done. People have to travel in and out of San Pedro Sula and/or La Esperanza. There is no way to avoid that – we already have been instructed to make sure and not travel at night, especially in and out of San Pedro or Tegus, and this volunteer was certainly not – it was noon on a Sunday.

To make this situation worse, it was brought to volunteers attention the following day that there had actually been two other assaults on the same bus company over that week – but Peace Corps had not informed any volunteers of these incidents.

So statements and photos about the Peace Corps returning to Nepal when the first batch of volunteers are not even getting there until later this year, but nothing on the Peace Corps leaving Honduras when the departure of the 158 volunteers already occurred. Ow…