Week Five – Running a Diplomatic Mission

Week Five looked at the differences between “normal” and “expeditionary” diplomacy, and whether those are entirely separate things; at the challenges of running an effective diplomatic mission, from Residence hospitality to leadership skills; and at how diplomats prepare for postings.

There was a lot of interest in the concept of a “tech Ambassador”.  This recent article on Danish Ambassador Casper Klynge was recommended – and this podcast interview may also be of interest.  As he points out, he is still in the process of persuading colleagues that California is a hardship posting.  Participants gave many examples from other fields of “expeditionary” approaches which involve rougher standards of living and physical challenges – from military and aid missions (UN and national), to mine workers on Fly-In-Fly-Out contracts, to journalists and NGOs who operate in parts of the world deemed too dangerous for diplomats (eg Medicins sans Frontières).

These papers on modern diplomacy from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (in English) look at some related issues.

Perhaps the expeditionary mindset is, as one participant put it, “basically [about] being adventurous”.  Vinay Talwar’s points on intrinsic job satisfaction – as a means of ensuring resilience in difficult situations – resonated with many people.  His three essentials were having Clarity of Purpose, Recognition of Effort and Task Autonomy.  That, and having a personal “No Whinge” policy.

Many participants pointed out that the generic challenges of running a mission were very similar to what you would find in other sectors, eg multinational companies and international organisations.  Breaking down physical and cultural barriers was desirable, but sometimes the absence of barriers – eg enforced open-plan working or close-proximity compound living – could also be an issue.  54% of poll respondents felt that leadership competences were the top requirement for running a diplomatic mission – but it was pointed out that it might depend on the size and type of mission, with 19% of respondents putting technical diplomatic skills first, and another 19% local language skills.  One participant recommended this Harvard Kennedy School podcast with senior US diplomat Kristie Kenney on leadership in diplomacy.

The important role of a Residence and its staff was recognised by many participants, connected to the importance of “breaking bread” with others as part of building relationships and networks.

Finally there was interesting discussion about the challenges of preparing for a new posting – including the often competing pressures of the previous job, the long list of pre-posting training courses and calls, the need to arrange some sort of handover, the logistics of moving countries, the importance of learning a language and – somewhere in the middle of that – the need for calm reflection.  This is something which Diplomatic Academies will continue to work on, no doubt..






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