By Sara Devlin, Amanda Hickman, and Tyler Sparks
“At this time, we need each other, and we need resilience more than ever,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) Julie Chung, as she provided encouragement to Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) colleagues on a virtual “Walk with the PDAS” after the Department of State’s move to primarily telework status. Resilience programming is an integral component of WHA Leads, an employee-led group seeking to develop a culture of leadership by empowering and inspiring WHA employees through regular engagement with the Department’s leadership and management principles, mentoring, and professional development.
The WHA Leads council, staffed by volunteers from across WHA, coordinates a wide range of leadership activities. The council brings in speakers, organizes a reading group, and recognizes staff who exemplify leadership through a spotlight program—all tied to a selected Department leadership tenet. The council also facilitates a “coffee with a colleague” networking program, professional development brown bags, and social hours to boost esprit de corps. From programs featuring Google executives to Latin dance classes, WHA Leads seeks to go beyond traditional leadership programming. Reading group selections encourage open discussions with participants ranging from interns to WHA front-office principals. Chung and the council’s post liaison encourage overseas colleagues to implement similar leadership programming at WHA posts.
The Walk with the PDAS program continued virtually during the COVID-19 crisis, as WHA colleagues sought to remain resilient. Video courtesy of Julie Chung
During the COVID-19 pandemic, WHA Leads and the WHA Executive Office have joined together to send out a twice-weekly publication, sharing tips and articles to build resilience. This resource coupled with targeted virtual programming from the Foreign Service Institute’s resilience specialist, light-hearted themed WebEx happy hours, virtual Walks with the PDAS, and video reading discussions all serve to bring the WHA community together as they adjust to this new work environment. WHA Leads welcomes innovative leadership ideas from other bureaus and can be reached via email at WHA_LeadsCouncil@groups.state.gov.
Sara Devlin is the digital media advisor in the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Amanda Hickman is a foreign affairs officer in the Office of Central American Affairs. Tyler Sparks is the senior Brazil desk officer in the Office of Brazil and Southern Cone Affairs. Devlin, Hickman, and Sparks are the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Leads program council chairs.