Just about everywhere you look there are speculations about the next Secretary of State. Perhaps folks will make up their minds this week, who knows? But I thought I'd write a few things to help clarify the want ad. The Secretary is a member of the President of the United States’ (POTUS) Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence. The Secretary serves as a principal adviser to the POTUS in the determination of U.S. foreign policy and, in recent decades, has become responsible for overall direction, coordination, and supervision of interdepartmental activities of the U.S. Government overseas, excepting certain military activities. Other duties include storage and use of the Great Seal, performance of protocol functions for the White House, drafting of proclamations, replies to inquiries, and heavy traveling on behalf of the POTUS. The job may also require staring down or shaking hands with temperamental dictators, hardnosed negotiations and occasional cheerleading for the people in Foggy Bottom and those folks working in 268 embassies and consulates around the world.
As the highest-ranking member of the cabinet, the Secretary is fourth in line to succeed the POTUS, coming after the VPOTUS, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the President pro tempore of the Senate. Federal law (3 U.S.C. § 20) provides that a POTUS resignation must be accomplished by written communication from the POTUS to the SecState. This has actually occurred once, when the former president aka: Tricky Dick resigned in August 1974 via a letter to Secretary of State Henry the Kiss.
The job is available now but assumption of office will not occur until after January 20, 2009. Only qualified applicants need apply. See more details below for key competencies and preferred qualifications:
Question 1: Do you have the boss’s ear?
It is extremely important that you already have an excellent relationship with the boss so you can get his attention, especially favorable attention on foreign policy issues. One of your predecessors said that “the secretary's influence is only as strong as his or her relationship with the president.” Very true; you don’t want to be left sitting outside the tent (lots of mosquitoes will eat you alive). Do you know what else he said? He claims that “Everybody in Washington wants to get a piece of the foreign-policy turf, so it's imperative that there be an understanding between you and the president. In the current administration, there are four power centers on foreign policy: the State Department, the National Security Council, the Department of Defense and—uniquely to this administration—the vice president's office.” So ask yourself this - will you be able to stand your own, against say Joe the Biden and all those muscle in the foreign policy apparatus? If you answer “yes,” proceed to Question 2. If you answer “no,” maybe you should try some other gig? Check out the Prune Book for other ideas.
Question 2: Are you an effective advocate?
Without friends in Capitol Hill who understand your agency’s resource needs, you can pretty much talk all you want, but you won’t get very far. You can pretty much start all kinds of initiatives and you won’t have much to show for it (unless you’re closing embassies and consulates). Your influencing skills as the country’s top diplomat does not start in Kabul or Baghdad, it actually starts in the hallways of Congress. Those folks at AFSA (you’ll get to know them soon enough) actually says that “when it comes to duties such as lobbying for resources and other management needs, there are some meetings, phone calls and letters that an agency head cannot delegate without significantly weakening their impact.”
Oh, very, very true. The president’s budget request to fund your department annually is a routine show everyone puts up with. The question is – do you think you can go beyond the klieg lights and deliver the goods for an anemic agency (not just on paper and second life but in real life – like funds for people, training, paperclips, pens, stuff)? If you answer “yes,” go to Question 3. If you answer “no,” please consider making friends at Capitol Hill first.
Question 3: Are you built for a foreign affairs stint?
If you think you can see Russia from your house, please, oh, please do not bother to fill out the 63- question application. Unless you’re Dick Lugar or Joe Biden, we don’t really expect you to know foreign affairs in your sleep or as the cliché go, like the back of your hand. As long as you can demonstrate that you have an elite brain that keeps learning, and are willing to reboot to speed up ineffective processes, you’ll be fine. It would help if you’re also a Type A, alpha dog, hyper super achiever kind of guy or gal because the world will occupy your every waking hour. If you only need 4 hour of sleep a day, be sure to mention that; POTUS would probably like that and State’s Ops Center would certainly appreciate that since they don't sleep anyway. If you answer “yes,” please go to Question 4. If you answer “no,” please bone up on your Foreign Affairs Professional Reading List and perhaps, try again in 2012?
Question 4: Do you have what it takes to follow and how to make others follow you?
You may not like having your predecessors mentioned here so often but it can’t be avoided since you are looking at filling in the same old shoes. Do you know what Secretary Powell used to say about leadership? He said that “leadership is the art of getting people to do more than the science of management says is possible. There are lots of variations and corollaries on that. Good leadership is getting people to do a lot more than the science of management says. If the science of management says that the capacity of this organization is at 100 percent, good leaders take it to 110 percent.”
Good grief! How do you do that? Bear with us – this story that Secretary Powell used to tell is a bit long. But we think you will find his perspective useful not only because State is a top candidate for a much needed make-over. Despite what you might hear in the next couple of months, it has morale issues, resource issues and other pesky issues that you won’t really know very well until after you’re ensconced in the 7th Floor. Furthermore, you need to lead this agency into the 21st century portal of new diplomacy; into a more complex, dysfunctional world with substantially new power players. It won’t be easy. You can drag your agency along, kicking or it could follow you happily out of curiosity through that door. So this Powell story is quite fitting:
At Fort Benning, Georgia, when you go to the infantry school and you drive onto the base, the first thing you will see in front of the headquarters building is a statue. It's called “Iron Mike.” And it's a statue of an infantry lieutenant, an infantry officer, who is posed with a rifle in one hand and he is pointing with the other hand.
And the motto of the infantry school, beneath the statue, is there, and there is no infantry officer or soldier who doesn't know what it is. It's “Follow me.” That motto means: I am the leader. You are the follower. “Follow me.” I know what I am doing. I am in charge. I am going to take you into the darkest night and bring you out safely. “Follow me.”
So it's all about people, how you interact with people. The single word that captures what leadership is really all about and how you know when you have it and when you don't have it is the word “trust.” Leaders have to be trusted by their followers. Leaders also have to be good followers. If a leader is a good follower, then the person above you, your leader, has confidence and trust in you.
Trust is the essence of leadership. Why do people follow you in the first place as a leader? Two reasons: One, they have to. They have no choice. You pay them. You have authority over them. Don't make any mistake about this, any of you. Because they have to follow you, they have no choice. They're in an organization and they have to follow you.
And that's a foundation. But the real thing you're after is not their following you because they have to, but their following you because they want to. And how do you make them want to follow you? You create conditions of trust within an organization, a bond between people.
But how do you know when you’re really a good leader? Secretary Powell asked his sergeant this question and the response was: “Very simple. A good leader is someone whose people will follow him or her, if only out of curiosity.” Secretary Powell said:
That is exceptionally profound, and I've never forgotten it, because it means that we may not be sure, exactly, where you're going. We may be a little confused. We may be tired. We may be afraid. We may be cold. We may be hungry. We may want to be anywhere else on earth but with you right now, but we will follow you just to see what you think is around the corner. And why will we follow you? Because we trust you -- we trust you with our lives. We are prepared for you to take us into battle. Follow me. Trust me.
Now, how do you develop that level of trust within an organization, which is the essence of leadership? A couple things: One, there has to be a focus on mission. There has to be a purpose of the activity around which the followers and leaders, together, can draw and give all of their soul and energy to.
And so, the first thing you're taught in the military is the mission is your first consideration. The mission is what you exist for, and everything is secondary to the mission. The mission is what will take people up the hill, what will send people to the furthest embassy posts that we have -- people, for example, who will be willing to sacrifice and go to Baghdad because the mission is there and the mission is important.
In order to make a mission important, it has to be a mission that not only exists up on the seventh floor. The mission has to be driven down through every level of the organization so everybody understands what we are trying to accomplish and is committed to its accomplishment. The mission has to be clear. It has to be straightforward. It has to be understandable. But above all, it has to be achievable, and it has to be something that will cause people to believe so that they will want to follow you and not just have to follow you.
And so one of the things we have tried to do in the time we have been here in the Department is to make it clear what we are trying to achieve. And sometimes it's difficult -- far more difficult in the diplomatic service, I've learned, than it is in the military. In the military, you just come in the morning, “This is what we're going to do! That's it! Let's go!” A little harder in the interagency process.”
If you have read all the above, then you must really want this job. So the question again is - do you have what it takes to follow and how to make others follow you?
If you answer “yes,” please accept the job when the incoming POTUS offers it to you. If you answer “no,” please have a good chat with Colin after you read his lecture here.
In sum – considering the state of the world today, this is an exceptionally tough assignment. But if you decide to accept it, you get a nice office in the Seventh Floor, your own customized airplane, your own security detail, numerous undersecretary this and undersecretary that, red carpets everywhere you go (we’ll almost everywhere), the support and loyalty of a talented professional corps and, if you play your cards effectively, an appointment with history. But like one of your predecessors say “You can't be a good chief foreign policy advisor to the President unless you are also deeply involved in and concerned about the welfare of the people who are executing the foreign policy of the President.” That probably is an excellent starting point after you accept this assignment.