Friday, November 22, 2019

Mid-Level Manager: Consular

That's me now, a mid-level consular manager.  The title doesn't inspire much awe, does it? In fact, it sounds downright cog-in-a-wheel-ish. 

I'll start by backing up a bit.  I actually became a mid-level officer in 2017 upon leaving Bucharest and starting my Washington assignment.  Mid-level describes the bulk of time one spends after being an Entry Level Officer (the first two directed assignments) and before being promoted into the Senior Foreign Service, should one get that far. There is a lot of range there, and even among the same rank (mid-level is FS 04 through FS 01, counting down as the ranks get higher) there is a lot of difference in the types of work one does depending on where you're assigned. You can be one of over 50, as it was for me in Juarez, or one of one.  From my A-100, I had two classmates who were shipped off to small posts to become sole consular officers to completely run the show with just the basic training under their belts (and hopefully well-seasoned local staff at the ready, but that's not always the case).  Thank God that wasn't me, lemme' tell you.  I'm not a jump-onto-thin-ice-and-figure-it-out-when-I-get-there kind of girl.  There are areas of risk where others might cringe where I'm more comfortable (public speaking - I'm on it), but being tossed into a leadership role with zero prior experience in the subject and I'm silently praying someone more ambitious next to me's hand shoots up to volunteer.  
Guess which one I am:

However, for this assignment - I feel decently prepared by having two adjudicating tours in very different environments and two years in Consular Affairs headquarters under my belt. I wouldn't have bid on the position if it felt like tooooo long of a stretch. Even so, there's a big difference between being a consular adjudicator and being the manager, and that's where I'm feeling the stretch. 

First of all, 8:00 am doesn't find me raising the blind in an adjudicating window and asking for someone's passport. That line snaking through the waiting room and out along the sidewalk isn't for me to work through anymore. And the nice folks with their arms full of folders and documents aren't popping their adorably-dressed kids onto the counter in front of me, daring me to refuse such a face. 

I miss it.  

I also miss not speaking the language every day to every type of person for at least four hours straight.  Hearing what life is like for the farmer, the student, the professional, the truck driver, the family of five, or the person hoping I won't notice that criminal history s/he failed to mention in their application.  

Yeah, I do miss it.

Instead, the morning starts in my office, greeting my coworkers, chatting (in English) about the weather or someone's breakfast as I log into the computer and start the day... managing. It's time to manage.  What does that MEAN? Delegating tasks? Being decisive? Being motivational? Guiding and correcting? Being the subject matter expert? Having vision? Signing papers they put in front of you? Or simply not screwing things up? 

I'm learning it means all of the above.  The hardest part, however, is that at the end of the day, there isn't always a tangible result to managing. Sure, you can look around the room and point to the fact that folks didn't quit en masse, work got done, and maybe there was some good conversations about things we should do, sometime, in the future.  But there's nothing as satisfying as seeing an empty waiting room where there once was a mob of activity and faces. Or hearing your colleagues down the line dropping their window shades and knowing that you all just adjudicated 600 applicants and survived the morning.

It's an adjustment to understand that the satisfyingly empty waiting room has been replaced by just getting through half of my daily to-do list. It's busy in a non-physical way, which is odd for me. It's keeping a lot of notes from a lot of meetings and wishing there was more time to actually DO the things that you've just written down.

Overall, it's moving the needle just a skosh - and having to be okay with that. 

While there are times when I feel kinda' like this:

When you're told you have to fill in at a meeting for someone three rungs up the ladder from you in a subject you have to Google first.
  Little by little, there are also times when, even if for just a moment, I feel like this:

Oh yeah, there are only 80 unread messages in my inbox!