Ambassadors gone wild! Meet a pair of bullying diplomats

Not all ambassadors are, well, diplomatic. In fact, given that ambassadorships are plums often dished out to campaign supporters and political allies, it shouldn’t surprise us that a few of these folks turn out to be workplace bullies.  To wit:

Turmoil lurks in Luxembourg

Businesswoman Cynthia Stroum was appointed U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg after being a key fundraiser for President Obama in 2008. On its own, the Luxembourg gig must be fairly peaceful, but Ambassador Stroum has been stirring up things within the embassy. As reported by Brian Montopoli of CBS News (link here):

It appears that her fundraising abilities did not translate to diplomatic success, however: According to a scathing State Department probe out Thursday (PDF), Stroum was seen by most employees as “aggressive, bullying, hostile and intimidating.”

. . . Things got so bad, the report says, that staffers asked for transfers to Afghanistan and Iraq due in part to “a climate of acute stress” at the embassy.

Memo to President: When foreign service officers seek postings to war zones in search of less stressful work environments, you know you botched this one.

Cuffing ’em around at the UN

Before Stroum, the last ambassador to become notorious for bullying behaviors was John Bolton, appointed to represent the U.S. at the United Nations by President George W. Bush. Here’s a snippet of his antics, quoted from a piece I wrote in 2005 (link here):

In recent months, many of these [bullying] behaviors have been attributed to Bolton by current and former State Department co-workers and contractors. Ex-State Department intelligence chief Carl Ford, a Republican appointee, called Bolton a “serial abuser” of subordinates, adding that he showed a talent for stroking superiors while kicking down underlings.

The most publicized allegations came from Melody Townsel, a woman who worked with Bolton in Moscow under a government contract in 1994. Townsel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Bolton chased her down the halls of a Moscow hotel, threw a tape dispenser at her, made disparaging remarks about her appearance, left threatening letters under her hotel door, and pounded on her door and yelled at her.

And that doesn’t even cover the stories about how Bolton antagonized people from other nations!

Bigger problem

This isn’t about knocking Democrats or Republicans; bullying behaviors cut across political lines. Rather, these appointments highlight a larger problem related to bullying at work, namely, the elevation of the wrong people to management positions requiring tact, diplomacy, and social intelligence.

Obviously neither Stroum nor Bolton possess the people skills to lead an embassy staff, and it is quite possible that their behaviors have negatively impacted America’s standing in the world community. When important leadership positions are doled out based on favors, political alliances, or simply negligent vetting, bad consequences are likely to follow.


Hat tip to Lucretia Perilli for the Stroum story.

2 responses

  1. Do we know whether she was asked to resign — or would she still be in her position (doing badly) if she had not resigned?

    And — did she resign because she has been offered a higher level position as a indirect (or direct) reward for her poor performance?

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Ambassadors gone wild! Meet a pair of bullying diplomats « Minding the Workplace --

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