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Dispatches from the Graduate School’s Executive Potential Program

The Graduate School’s Executive Potential Program is a year-long Leadership Development Program for GS13-15s. As part of the program, participants must do two 60-day developmental assignments as well as conduct a series of interviews with Senior Executives.
Needless to say, with 135 participants enrolled, there are some fantastic assignments and networking encounters that take place and I believe that many govloop readers will find them interesting.

Take the case of Susan Aikman from USCIS. Susan’s developmental assignment was with with USCIS – International Operations as a Field Office Director (FOD) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Developmental assignments always test participants leadership capabalities. Those in overseas locales add even more complexity and richness of experience. Now imagine being present during a government coup!! Such was Susan’s experience.

Below are excerpts from an impact paper Susan wrote about her developmental assignment.

“There were several notable components to my assignment: 1) working within the embassy environment; 2) working in another country with people from another culture in another language; 3) participating in the first overseas military naturalization ceremony in the western hemisphere; 4) dealing with earthquakes; 5) have a coup d’etat and witnessing the actual coup and dealing with the aftermath of the unrest and diplomatic problems within and outside the embassy; 6) staffing vs. workload issues; 7) mastering sections of immigration law I had not previously used in my job.”

“The Tegucigalpa office has jurisdiction over all of Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. ..
The country had a coup d’etat while I was there and while I was acting field office director…When the Coup occurred, I was in the hotel next to the Presidential House that was surrounded by military and protestors. I was the closest person the embassy and HQ here in the U.S. had next to the Coup. I was able to communicate the situation to the embassy and to DHS Command Center in the U.S. In such a situation, one has to weigh the problems minute by minute and maintain a level head. I was fortunate that the situation was nonviolent during the day that I was in the hotel.With the many tasks and the civil unrest and being in the middle of another culture and country, I had to employ strategic thinking at every turn. Above all, flexibility was key during my time there.”

“When I arrived, I began watching the news and saw there was controversy surrounding the president, Zelaya. He was attempting to have a “fourth ballot.” He stated the fourth ballot was to determine the will of the people but many said it was to allow him to extend his time in office. Honduran presidents are elected for one 4-year term and the constitution does not permit that term to be extended. Zelaya was elected almost four years ago and the next election is November of 2009. During his presidency, Zelaya had become a close ally of Hugo Chavez. The military refused to cooperate with this fourth ballot and the Supreme court and Congress had declared the ballot unconstitutional. The ballot was to take place on June 28, 2009.”

“That morning at six o’clock, I hear a noise outside of the hotel. When I looked out, I saw military and tanks heading toward the Casa Presidential, the neighboring property to the hotel. I then received the news that the military had arrested Zelaya and taken him out of the country. It was a tense day with protestors in the streets and the military in riot gear. Since that day, the Organization of American States, several countries including the U.S. and various world leaders have been seeking a solution to the crisis.
In Honduras, the protestors marched everyday either in support of or against Zelaya’s return. There was some violence but none directed at the U.S. people. Our movement was restricted and the Honduran government instituted a curfew. We were required to use common sense and keep a low profile. For me, it was an honor to witness this historical event. It changed the atmosphere of the nation. I was able to see the heart of the Honduran people and the sadness this problem brought to them as a people. I was able to witness the incredible diplomacy and maneuvering used by the Ambassador and the U.S. government.”

“My particular assignment also allowed me to be a part of the first naturalization ceremony in the western hemisphere. This brought together military, generals, the ambassador, the director of USCIS, the director of the Mexico City district, local and U.S. media and all components of the embassy.

“This assignment has been a dream come true for me. Initially, I almost had a problem entering Honduras because of the outbreak of swine flu. That was resolved and I arrived on time. During my time there we had earthquakes, a historic naturalization ceremony and the country had a coup. After all of this, I almost had a problem leaving Honduras since the protestors kept shutting down the airport. They cancelled my flight but one of the American Airlines workers was nice enough to get me on a last flight out to the U.S. My other option would have been to go to Peru and then make my way home. This assignment required every single leadership competency. I was given a phenomenal mentor and staff. They have taught me so much and have my enduring gratitude.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey Rick – Great post! Thanks for sharing this profile – hope to see more of them. I know our EPP participants are engaging in some excellent projects and developmental assignments.