The main lobby of the State Department throbbed with music Friday. “Happy” by Pharrell boomed out of a loudspeaker on the wall of the cavernous space where coveys of suited diplomats scurry past rows of national flags, followed by the voice of Bruno Mars singing “Uptown Funk.”
Then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his way through a small throng of employees and scaled a stairway to a lectern near a giant placard hanging from a wall covered by a blue cloth awaiting a theatrical reveal. It was an unusual event, marking Pompeo’s first anniversary at the agency, and seemed to reflect his vision of leadership instilled in him at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in N.Y.
But the splashy atmosphere surrounding the unveiling of Pompeo’s new “Professional Ethos” was more dramatic than the ethos itself, a nine-sentence statement that begins, “I am a champion of American diplomacy.”
Many of the concepts in the ethos are already embedded in the State Department’s official mission statement, common human resources values or just the Golden Rule — professionalism, accountability, honesty and respect. Pompeo said they had been working on it since last fall, and the final product was preceded by more than 30 drafts.
“Never forget who it is that we work for,” he said, explaining what it means to protect the American people. “Their interests, not ours. Not yours.”
“It’s about disagreeing without being uncivil,” he said of professionalism.
Respect is about showing “unfailing respect for each other,” he said. “Simply because we are all human beings created by God.”
Pompeo acknowledged some of the people listening were probably wondering whether anything would change because of the short ethos statement.
“I think by highlighting the principles in this ethos, we can encourage each other and hold each responsible to these standards and take it to a new level,” he said.
He announced a new Ethos Award would be handed out later this year to the State Department employee who best incorporates the values. But it is impossible to know how many employees actually heard his remarks. The lobby was less than half full, but most would have listened on a closed circuit channel broadcast in the building.
After finishing his 15-minute speech, Pompeo lingered to shake hands with employees and pose for photos and selfies taken by some of the 75 members of the newest class of fledgling diplomats to complete classes at the Foreign Service Institute.