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Five Leadership Lessons

We all know that it is important to be a good leader, but often the concrete skills and visible qualities elude us when we need them most. Sometimes performance anxiety rears its ugly head. At other times we are so overwhelmed with the A’s and B’s of daily tasks that the bigger picture looks like day-old alphabet soup—confusing and disorganized.

The American Consular Section takes leadership seriously and follows Consular Leadership Tenets that are taught to officers working at U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world. Instituted in 2001, Consular Leadership Day offers a great opportunity to really consider what it means to be a leader. Every year, Consular personnel pick a day to step back from the daily routine to focus on broad leadership and management issues. The time away from regular work allows Consular officers to think more about what they would like to achieve. There are valuable leadership lessons to be learned at Consular Leadership Day. Here, U.S. Consular officers share five of the most important lessons.

1. Don’t skimp on the details
The nuts and the bolts are what really make machines function well. Pay attention to the subtle ways that team members express distress or disinterest, so that you can best encourage their participation and address their concerns. Consider making that extra phone call to follow up, even on the tiniest detail; meet with people in person and go methodically down your “To do” list. It’s the little things that can result in a success or a missed opportunity.

2. Know your resources
How many people will be available to help? What is the budget? How much time do you have? Moderating expectations to maximize the resources available is something that a good leader knows how to do. A great leader even knows when and how to push those limits, but clearly she or he has to know what they are first.

3. Work smarter, not harder
We’ve been told to work hard more times than we can count. While we are all prepared to stay late and show up at odd hours to put in the extra effort, working smart means being creative, looking at problems in a different way. Innovations like Java and Google would have been impossible without divergent thinking.

4. Praise good behavior 
It’s easy to convey disappointment. The challenge lies in giving praise where praise is due. In some instances, it’s a simple pat on the back, but in many of the cross-cultural contexts in which we work we have to be dexterous and creative about how to relay kudos. A good leader knows if a public “Thank you” is in order, or if an e-mail to the higher ups sharing news of a job well done is more appropriate. Either way, positive reinforcement is an excellent teaching tool that you should practice using as early on as possible.

5. Delegate responsibility, not authority
Never forget that you have the authority to define the project, to determine the standard, and make the staffing and programming decisions necessary to ensure a successful final product. When you are in charge you can never say that someone else dropped the ball, without implicating yourself.


Text courtesy the Consular Section, U.S. Embassy, New Delhi.