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.