Inculcating Courageous Followership Across Cultures

Blog Posting  August 8, 2010

I had lunch yesterday with Foreign Service Officer Don Jacobson before he returned to his post as head of consular affairs in the US embassy in New Delhi.  Don is one of the quiet patriots who are always looking for ways to improve how government operates.  He is the inspiration behind www.GovLeaders.org, which is a terrific resource for government managers who are committed to improving their effectiveness. He was also an early champion of The Courageous Follower.

Don shared with me that the training I did at the Foreign Service Institute on developing courageous followership is continuing to find its way into the curriculum for management training at the Institute. The Foreign Service has always upheld the value of candor in advising superiors of conditions on the ground and of the impact of current foreign policies.  Perhaps alone amongst government agencies, the group that represents its personnel, The American Foreign Service Association,  issues annual awards for courageous dissent and risk-taking. The Courageous Follower adds to the Foreign Service Officer’s toolkit for doing so effectively.

Don and I had an interesting discussion about the challenges of inculcating courageous follower behaviors in the very hierarchical culture in which he is currently stationed: India.  Having experienced just such a challenge during my own workshop tour of India, I had subjective experience of what he was encountering.  All embassies rely heavily on in-country-staff (local nationals of the country in which the embassy is located). Their candid input and feedback is critical to the optimum functioning of the embassy. But cultural inhibitions about speaking up to authority often get in the way of this. I shared with Don an experience from the military on needing to drill personnel on speaking up candidly just as one drills them on other difficult tasks. It will be interesting to hear what results he gets with that approach. Don was pleased to learn that there is an Indian edition of The Courageous Follower, which makes it more accessible to locals, and also that the Followership Style Self-Assessment is now available on –line.

How many other dedicated public servants like Don are there who exercise great initiative behind the scenes?  One thing is for sure – we can never have too many!

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