• Leadership at State: Failing from the Top

    August 17, 2012 // 14 Comments »

    The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General released one of the most scathing critiques of a sitting Ambassador most anyone has ever seen, damning Obama political appointee Scott Gration in his post as Ambassador to Kenya so completely that he resigned. After 14 months on the job.

    Even skimming the report makes your eyes burn, but to pull just a quote or three:

    The Ambassador has lost the respect and confidence of the staff to lead the mission. Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the Ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members. The inspectors found no reason to question these assessments; the Ambassador’s leadership to date has been divisive and ineffective.

    The Ambassador’s efforts to develop and focus the mission’s work around what he calls “mission essential tasks” have consumed considerable staff time and produced documents of unclear status and almost no value to the Department in approving priorities and assigning resources. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) team agreed with embassy staff that the mission essential task process added no real value to the management of the embassy.

    The Ambassador’s greatest weakness is his reluctance to accept clear-cut U.S. Government decisions. He made clear his disagreement with Washington policy decisions and directives… Notwithstanding his talk about the importance of mission staff doing the right thing, the Ambassador by deed or word has encouraged it to do the opposite.


    Failure No. 1

    Perhaps not the State Department’s fault (they might push back a tad), many ambassadorships are handed out by the president as political patronage jobs, just like Boss Tweed did. Competence is not assessed nor does it matter; good posts go to loyal supporters who bundled big campaign contributions. Both parties do this, neither more or less than the other. No other, well, anything, is lead in such a way (over the last three decades, 85 percent of US ambassadorial appointments to major European countries and Japan, and nearly 60 percent of appointments to a wider group of emerging global powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China, have been political.)

    Failure No. 2

    Sort of a big one here: this guy destroyed the embassy in Kenya over 14 months, and resigned only after the OIG accused him of crimes against humanity practically. Where was the State Department? The Department certainly heard reports from the field about this guy, right? Right? Even allowing for a period of sucking up where the embassy’s staff tried to hide this guy’s flaws, word no doubt made it to Washington. Where was Hillary? Why didn’t someone fire this clown?

    Failure No. 3

    If the embassy in Kenya was to serve any purpose (Kenya was one of the top ten recipients of US foreign aid in FY2012, $652 million of your tax dollars, so something must be expected), it clearly was not being accomplished in the 14 months this buffoon was ambassador. Didn’t anyone in State, the White House or anywhere care or notice?

    Failure No. 4

    Hidden in plain sight among the OIG’s criticisms of the ambassador to Kenya was the line that “Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members.”

    So despite all this, the guy in Kenya is not the worst ambassador in terms of management skills and morale? And there are two other ambassadors who in fact ranked lower overall? Who are they? Where are they working? And for God’s sake what are they doing to earn those lower rankings, actually impaling staff at noon in the lobby? And why why why doesn’t someone just freaking fire them?

    Failure No. 5

    I just checked Wikipedia, and it turns out that the State Department is funded by us, the taxpayers. We also paid for the aid payola for Kenya, the internet connection the disgraced ambassador ordered installed in his toilet and everything else. And we the taxpayers got zilch in return, just this loser wasting everyone’s money while the leaders at State and the White House sat around and watched it happen for 14 months. Then we taxpayers paid for the OIG to go out there and declare it a disaster area. These leadership failures fail us.

    Just Failure

    Leadership means stepping up, doing the harder right over the easier wrong. Hillary, it is obvious you have a crisis in leadership at (at least) several embassies. Your State staff will whine “But oh, they are political appointees, we can’t touch them!”

    You Hilary have the White House connections, the pull and the gravitas to act on behalf of your people and your organization. Plus, this is your freaking job, not just racking up frequent flyer miles and grinding on the dance floor. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

    Your employees know you can help, but when you don’t, that sends a very powerful message down the chain that no one cares. Apathy is contagious. So is leadership.



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    Posted in Embassy/State