Monday, November 17, 2008

Dear 67: Don’t Be a Wet Washcloth

You probably saw this last September when five former secretaries of state were on CNN. They discussed how they would advise the next president on a wide range of foreign policy, including relations with Russia, Iran and the Middle East. That's fine but what we seldom hear about is their advice to the person who will sit in their old familiar chair up in the 7th floor. Newsweek in their Transition Toteboard has some advice for the next Secretary of State courtesy of former Secretary of State James Baker III (61) and Lawrence Eagleburger (62). I’ve listed them down in bullet points (followed by advisor’s initials). Note that Eagleburger, the only career diplomat to become Secretary of State is focused on people issues. I have also added a couple of nuggets from Colin Powell (65) because, heck - he started the leadership challenge at State, and I'm still sore that the job did not get to go the full circle.

1. Especially leading the State Department, a secretary's influence is only as strong as his or her relationship with the president. JB

2. You need to be in control of your position and responsible for your department, because it's an institution in and of itself. JB

3. You need to be the president's person at the State Department and not the State Department's person at the White House. JB

4. You'll also have to be a good manager. The department is a very large bureaucracy; most of the people below you are career public servants. The challenge will be to manage the building and not let the building manage you. JB

5. You need to have extraordinarily talented people around you in order to succeed. JB

6. You will be deluged by hundreds of your "best friends." Most will be job seekers while some will earnestly tell you what your priorities should be. Do not let the former in the door and ignore the latter. LE

7. You have an obligation to lead a Department that will loyally carry out the President's policies. Your confidence in those below you will be a vital part of assuring an effective Department. LE

8. People will be a key to your future success or failure. Decide on people before you do anything else—once in office responding to events will consume your every wakening hour. LE

9. There is one person you must insist be yours to selectthe Deputy Secretary. This position should go to someone you could consider your alter-egosomeone ready to fill in for you when you are otherwise occupied. LE

10. Be a wet washcloth on personnel matters and you invite similar treatment on more substantive issues. LE

11. Take care of your people. This is second only to mission. It means know your troops. It means take care of your troops. The simple reason is that they accomplish the mission. Colin Powell.

12. If it's important enough for us to do and participate in, then it's important enough for us to invest in the people that we are asking to do it. You should never set up anyone for failure, as long as you have the ability to do something about it. Colin Powell.

And of course, I have to wade into the tide pool with the following:

  • Be accessible to your people. Read your email even if it's from one of your low level staffer in Timbuktu.
  • Do something about Q21. You need to send a strong signal that seeking professional help on PTSD and mental health issues will not compromise your people's careers or their security clearance.
  • Deliver the bads news as much as possible in person not through the "filter of the MSM." And please - never at 5 o'clock on a Friday unless lives are on the line.

If you have anything to add, feel free to add them (or not) in the comments below.

Update 11/22: Colin Powell broken links have been fixed.

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