By Amanda J. Richard
The first floor of the Harry S. Truman Building was a bustling hive of activity, Feb. 25-26, as leaders of the United States diplomatic missions abroad gathered for the 2020 Global Chiefs of Mission (COM) conference. The COMs spent their time in Washington, D.C., attending instructive panels, seminars, and meetings with subject matter experts and the Department’s senior leadership. The theme of the two-day conference was “Champions of Diplomacy.” Between seminars, several conference participants shared their thoughts on what that concept meant to them.
“It means to be a leader, a leader of a team, but also a member of a team,” said Bruce Williamson, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz. “A team that works well, a team that functions well, a team that respects other members of the team. It means cooperation, collaboration, listening, but at the same time stating one’s views.”
Daily breakout sessions allowed COMs the flexibility to attend sessions of their choice, including discussions on combating trafficking in persons, immigration and consular affairs, or harnessing talent. The Department’s new Center for Analytics held a session about leveraging data as a strategic asset, which highlighted their mission to transform data into bold insights that can help leaders make better management and foreign policy decisions.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opened the conference with a “Commander’s Intent,” emphasizing the importance of the “One Team, One Mission” approach. Pompeo offered insight into the Department’s Professional Ethos, which served as an institutional benchmark for Department employees since it was announced in April 2019. He also referenced talent and diversity, discussing the Department’s efforts to improve and standardize the process for recruiting new talent, as well as the ability to provide retention efforts.
“As we grow our global team, we should think about how we can better mentor all of our employees to enable their career development in an upward progression,” encouraged Pompeo.
Meet some of the Champions of Diplomacy
Immediately following Pompeo’s remarks, Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao and Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbühl led a session called “Ethos of a Champion,” continuing the discussion on the overall theme for the conference.
“People ask why we’re investing so much in our ethos,” said Bulatao. “I’ll tell you: the single biggest differentiating factor that separates high-performing enterprises from the rest is culture. What we do, and why, and how we do it. Ethos drives behavior, and our cumulative behavior becomes our culture. That culture makes us champions.”
The Foreign Service Institute hosted a crisis leadership panel for the COMs underlining that a crisis can happen anytime, anywhere. Panelists noted that in the last five years, the Department has authorized 48 evacuations. In essence, a majority of these posts were rated low- or medium-threat before the authorized and/or ordered departure. The panelists discussed the importance of communication and leading by example in times of crisis.
“Model resilience. Pay attention to it every day,” said panelist Michele Sison, the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. “Locally employed staff resilience also needs to be a point of focus. They are the front lines.”
On the first evening during the team dinner, the COM’s were treated with a special appearance by two-time TeamUSA Paralympic athlete and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Sports Diplomacy program partner John Register. Register travels the world sharing his perspective on what it means to be a “Champion of Diplomacy.” He seeks to help businesses, organizations, and individuals learn how to deal with setbacks and turn obstacles into opportunities. During his speech, Register discussed how the United States is approaching the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and encouraged the COMs to recognize diverse talent, overcome adversity, and strive for excellence—all of which are the very essence of what the Department’s Professional Ethos demands.
The conference concluded with an Open Forum with Pompeo, where COMs shared their candid thoughts on leadership, America’s approach to global challenges, and why effective international alliances remain critical. Pompeo also conveyed his appreciation to the COMs, for their continuous commitment to representing America overseas.
Amanda J. Richard is the multimedia editor at State Magazine.