About Ambassador Niels Marquardt
This follows a long career representing the United States abroad. After leaving the State Department in 2013 after 33 years, Niels also led the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia as its CEO until 2017.
Other career highlights include service as U.S. Consul General in Sydney, Australia (2010–13); U.S. Ambassador to Madagascar and the Union of the Comoros (2007–10); and U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon (2004–07) and Equatorial Guinea (2004–06).
Niels first entered the State Department in 1980 and ultimately served every U.S. President from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama. His earlier overseas assignments included postings in Thailand (twice), the People’s Republic of the Congo, France, and Germany. Under the leadership of Secretary of State Colin Powell, Niels led the Department’s 2001–04 “Diplomatic Readiness Initiative,” managing the largest increase in State Department recruitment, hiring, and training in decades and helping prepare American diplomacy for the intense challenges of the post-9/11 era.
Earlier in his career, Niels was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zaire and Rwanda (1977–79), teaching English at the National University of Rwanda.
Ambassador Marquardt also earned master’s degrees from the National War College (1994) and Thunderbird Graduate School of Global Management (1980). Ambassador Marquardt serves on the board of the Portland-based International Youth Silent Film Festival; on Lewis & Clark’s Sustainability and Global Advisory Boards; on the American-Australian Veterans Scholarship Fund; and is a member of the Oregon Consular Corps.
Lesson 1. Don’t Worry About What Other People Are Thinking About You. 05:13
Lesson 2. The 90 Percent Rule. 08:25
Lesson 3. Your Passion May Not Lead To Success. But Pursue Them Anyway. 12:32
Lesson 4. We Are Often Our Own Worst Enemy. 17:34
Lesson 5. Instill Pride In Others. 20:56
Lesson 6. If You Can’t Stay Out Of The Way, You Have Hired The Wrong People. 26:35
Lesson 7. Listen. 31:55
Lesson 8. If They Don’t Know You, They Won’t Care. 34:32
Lesson 9. Who Do You Work For? 38:37
Lesson 10. You Can Recover From Most Mistakes 43:48
Niels Marquardt – If You Can’t Stay Out Of The Way, You Have Hired The Wrong People
[00:00:06] Robert Hossary: Hello, and welcome to 10 Lessons it Took Me 50 Years to Learn the only podcast that makes the world better lesson by lesson. My name is Robert Hossary and I’ll be your host for this episode. Our guest today is ambassador Niels Marquardt. Welcome Niels. Welcome to the show.
[00:00:26] Niels Marquardt: It’s good to see you again Robert.
[00:00:27] Robert Hossary: just a little brief background on Niels.
Niels is a former American diplomat who now serves as the first ever diplomat in residence at the Lewis and Clark college. this follows a very long career in the U.S. State department, after leaving in 2013, Niels became the CEO of the American chamber of commerce in Australia and led that organization for four years where I had the pleasure of working with him Niels was also Consul General for the United States in Sydney.
He was the Ambassador to Madagascar and the union of Comoros. Uh, he was a U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
Neil’s first entered the state department in 1980 and ultimately served every us president from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama. Niels has had postings in Thailand. The Peoples Republic of Congo, France, Germany, and under the leadership of secretary of state Colin Powell, Neil’s led the department’s, diplomatic readiness initiative, managing the largest increase in the state department’s recruitment and hiring and training in decades and preparing the American diplomacy for intense challenges post the nine 11 era.
if you think that Niels has spent all his life in the state department, you’re probably right, but before that Niels was also in the peace Corps, he volunteered in Zaire and Rwanda teaching English, at the national university of Rwanda. Ambassador Niels Marquardt has earned a master’s degree at the national war college.
The Thunderbird Graduate School of Management. And he currently serves on the board of the Portland based international youth, silent film festival, youth silent film festival. We’ll talk about that. The second deals on Lewis and Clark sustainability and global advisory boards, and on the American Australian veteran’s scholarship fund Niels is also a member of the Oregon Consular Corp.
Wow. Niels that just went on and on. You have not retired. You are still as busy as ever. welcome to the show. Great to see you again. How have you been?
[00:02:37] Niels Marquardt: I’ve been great. It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since I left Australia. As you know, Judy and I left our daughter there. So, we still have a connection. And in fact, she’s getting her citizenship next week.
This is our third daughter Torrin. So, we’ll be back as soon as you’ve got flight planes flying again across the Pacific.
[00:02:57] Robert Hossary: Well, hopefully that will be soon to, hopefully there’ll be very soon, but you, you have been very, very busy. You, you haven’t stopped since you went back to Oregon.
[00:03:08] Niels Marquardt: Well, I, I put together a lot of, I would call them little gigs that going to add up to, I think, a pretty interesting existence here.
You know, I don’t have to worry about trying to make money, which is a really nice, change. And, um, so all of the things that I’d do are voluntary, and, uh, unpaid and so, you know, I can come and go. I mean, lately there’s not been a lot of coming and going, but I do have plans to go to the middle east, uh, for Christmas.
Cause we have another daughter who lives in Qatar, and grandchildren. There that’s a, that’s a development since I last saw you a grandson and a granddaughter. And then, uh, I’m going on a Lewis and Clark college alumni trip to Antarctica, in January. So, um, yeah, so lots of fun things. I got to say, come together and make a full life here.
[00:03:54] Robert Hossary: And that’s why I thought of you. And we started putting this project together. When we’re talking about 10 lessons, it took me 50 years to learn your breadth of experience, especially your international breadth of experience led us to, to think that the kind of.
Lessons that we could learn from Neils Marquardt would be valuable, valuable to our listeners, valuable to us because of the fact that you have experienced these things. You’ve learned your lessons in life on, I would say, what about 5, 6, 7 different countries in your career?
[00:04:30] Niels Marquardt: I think the total is 11 for a group of students.
So, 12, including my own country. So yeah
[00:04:38] Robert Hossary: if we look at that from a cultural perspective, that’s phenomenal, that opens up the ability to understand humanity from multiple different angles. So, it makes your lessons at least to me Niels, hopefully to our audience, it makes your lessons even more valuable.
And I want to say again, thank you for making the time to be here with us today. And we’ll just jump straight into your 10 lessons. You might have to explain some of these by the way, because some of them could be a little cryptic.
[00:05:12] Niels Marquardt: I will definitely provide examples.
[00:05:13] Lesson 1: Don’t Worry About What Other People Are Thinking About You
[00:05:13] Robert Hossary: All right. Let’s start with lesson number one.
Don’t worry about what other people are thinking of you. I, uh, I never do. And I think you know that, but still, I mean, that is a, a very unique lesson. Why would you not worry about what other people think of you?
[00:05:31] Niels Marquardt: Well, I think I meant it specifically in that, I mean, I spent so much of my career at a distance from people that I was working with, uh, emails and telegrams and cables and the occasional phone calls where my connection, my lifeline back to headquarters.
And, uh, you know, sometimes you’d get an answer to a question or, an instruction that was very clear and other times, it would, we’re kind of raised more questions than an answer. And, uh, I think it’s very easy and that’s not just for diplomats. I think anybody, dealing through social media or email or whatever, your medium of choice is.
It’s very easy to start to read things into mainly things that people don’t say and wonder what they really meant and sort of go off, give me a start, playing head games and waste time and invent scenarios that are really quite often destructive and unhelpful. And in fact, people just, aren’t thinking about you, people that are thinking mostly about themselves and when they leave things out, uh, I think it’s a very, unhealthy habit to get into trying to guess.
You’re just guessing what it is that they really might’ve meant or might be thinking about. They are not thinking about you. So go back and ask the question that you have and don’t, you know, the French haven’t expressed it. It’s called (French), you know, don’t start getting into that, sort of practice where you’re second guessing what somebody far or near about away from you is, trying to say, because they probably aren’t trying to say anything.
[00:07:05] Robert Hossary: I’m laughing because you’re spot on. and this is something, it took me a long time to learn. But while, while yes, you’re absolutely right. the terminology, about not worrying about what other people are thinking about you. So, what you’re saying is they’re not thinking about you. So, it’s your, the one who’s thinking about you and about the way you, you look to them and you, you present yourself to.
[00:07:36] Niels Marquardt: Yeah, it’s a form of a great, uh, flattery you to think that you’re so important that you’re an extent that they simply are not, they may have answered your question briefly and moved on to the next thing, which is usually a good practice and work in business. and you know, there you are left wondering what they really meant.
Well, they probably didn’t mean anything. So, you know, it’s just, uh, and the fact that I learned that lesson, I mean, I heard that expression in Australia for one of my colleagues at AmCham. We just, you know, he just said that, you know, it’s like, they’re not thinking about you at all. You know? So, move on.
[00:08:10] Robert Hossary: I love that because it’s so true. And it takes a lot of people, a long time to realize this, basically get your ego out of the way. And just get on with the job Niels.
You’re spot on.
[00:08:25] Lesson 2: The 90 Percent Rule
[00:08:25] Robert Hossary: Okay, well, let’s move on to lesson number two, which I, and I have no idea what this means. So, you’re going to have to explain it to me. The 90% rule.
[00:08:35] Niels Marquardt: What really struck me, you know, the state department is, uh, you know, again, a lot of my examples will come out of the place that I spent just under half my life working.
So, you’ll forgive me for that. But the state department is a place that’s very process driven, very hierarchical, you know, for an idea to ever really see the light of day. Uh, it needs to go up the chain and across the field. And everyone has to chime in and say, check, check, check, check, check, uh, you know, it’s okay.
The, we call it the clearance process in the state department, and it’s one of the most, inefficient and odious things that I ever encountered in my professional life. Again, unfortunately, it’s quite a big part of the state department and there’s a reason for it. You obviously want to make policy that takes into account every angle.
But you just find that in working on projects there, that, you know, you spend 50% of your time on the, you know, the last 10 yards, to use a football analogy. to the extent possible, you know, none of us, I think anybody in the state department would lament the excesses of the clearance process, and none of us have the power to change it individually, but the extent you have control over what you’re doing in your day, you know, when you get to be about 90% of the way through most of the work that you, that you’ve done, uh, that’s, that’s a good place to, to just say, okay, that’s good enough because the rest of the time, you’re going to be oscillating and burnishing and changing, happy to glad.
And, uh, you know, a lot of this is written communication, uh, that I’m talking about, but, uh, it just doesn’t matter. You know, it’s, if it’s, if you’re 90% of the way there, move on to the next thing. Uh, and I don’t think anybody will really notice. So those are maybe two sort of overlapping ideas there. You will be so much more productive if you just don’t worry about the last 10%.
[00:10:26] Robert Hossary: I hear you. I understand what you’re saying. Is there in your experience, outside of the state department, maybe in a, in a life situation, an example of that 90% rule?
[00:10:39] Niels Marquardt: Um, I have a friend who, you know, does a lot of embroidering in the crafts and things like that.
And she calls her websites, something like galloping horses, and she does a lot of detailed stitching and things like that. So, she says, if you can’t see the mistake from a galloping horse, then don’t worry about it. I think it’s the same thing, you know, it’s like, it is good enough.
And we get so obsessed about perfection, uh, which doesn’t exist by the way.
When I was at the war college, 25 years ago with a bunch of, fighter pilots and ship drivers and submarine captains and people like that. I remember I was working on a paper back then, you know, nobody had a laptop or anything.
We’re just sitting side by side in a room that was full of PCs and, uh, I was doing that sort of happy to glad thing. And there’s a pilot from the air force sitting next to me and he looked over and he said, what’s going on? I said, well, I explained I was just going back and forth. And then I realized I was changing things back to what I had changed them from.
And he goes, oh yeah, we call that pilot induced oscillation, you know, which is when you’re driving your airplane, you want to go up and you got to go down and you go up, you go down and you just can’t get it right. So, um, you know, we’ve got it in every profession
[00:12:01] Robert Hossary: we do, and it’s very clear that this happens all the time and you’re right. Uh, we’ve had a, a guest on the podcast who said, perfect is not a destination because it’s not, as you said, it doesn’t exist and you will be going backwards and forwards doing exactly the same thing, 90% rule.
If you’re 90% done, get onto the next thing. Very well put, I like that. And I can see the benefit in doing that.
[00:12:32] Lesson 3: Your Passion May Not Lead To Success. But Pursue Them Anyway
[00:12:32] Robert Hossary: All right. Lesson number three, your passion may not lead to success, but pursue it anyway.
[00:12:39] Niels Marquardt: Yeah. again, I have to go back to the state department on this, you know, the whole issue of.
Assignments. I mean, I, I said I worked in 12 different countries over my career and, you know, we care a lot about assignments in the state department, good ones, challenging ones, career enhancing ones, places where you would want to live with your family or not, a lot of things to be concerned about.
And, you know, along the way you get, offers, you meet good people who have things that they care about. Uh, let’s say people who are passionate about the, you know, the middle east, for example, I mean, that’s a real example from my, from my life. And, uh, you know, I, it was a point where somebody I really respected asked me if I’d like to go work on middle Eastern affairs.
And I was torn because the person asking me was, would have been an appealing boss, but, you know, I just didn’t want to take that leap into dealing with. Intractable issues of, you know, Israel and Palestine and Shia and Sunni and, you know, I mean, you spend your entire career working on that stuff and what, what at the end of it, what you have to show for it. So, uh, you know, so I’ve turned them down. I said, no, I, I don’t want to go off in that direction. It might’ve been career enhancing. I might’ve, you know, who knows, I might have all kinds of great things might’ve happened, but it’s like, why would I want to go down that rabbit hole?
And so, I think if you think of four or five or six other sort of intersections in my career path where I turned down, something that I really felt was not in line with the things that I was really interested in. So that’s what I was trying to get out with that one. And then, I mean, you know, we’d had so many opportunities, if you want to call them that in the state department, they go to places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and you know, really those can be very career enhancing.
You know, you’re taking personal risk on behalf of something that’s a huge foreign policy priority. I didn’t accept any of those. I was once offered the, the number two slot in, Iraq, and, uh, you know, it was like, no, thank you. I guess I wasn’t interested in, I didn’t feel like I was qualified for it.
I felt for sure there had to be people that knew Arabic or some Arabic or, you know, more than I did. They had to be better qualified. And, you know, if the only reason for doing it was career enhancement or ambition, then how does one feel when you make that decision and you don’t get rewarded. you know, and there’s no guarantee that you are going to get rewarded for those kinds of trade-offs.
So, you know, I think you just have to stay true to yourself and do the thing that you think is interesting and in line with why you have chosen whatever your profession is. maybe it’s more dramatic in the foreign service when you’re choosing between, you know, Iraq and, Buenos Aires or something, but we all make those kinds of choices.
And I, I just really feel bad for those people who, who think they’re going to be rewarded for doing something they want to do, and then they’re never rewarded and they, you know, live with resentment and regret that never happened to me.
[00:15:49] Robert Hossary: And having worked with you for four years, it’s very obvious that your choices, have resulted in your leadership style, your choices have resulted in your humanity and the way you approach other people. And I’ve, I’ve always appreciated that. So, if I can just summarize or at least try and boil down what you, you said, if you were giving advice to people today, you would be telling them to follow their passion, even if it doesn’t lead to a financial reward or a financial gain at the end of the day.
[00:16:26] Niels Marquardt: Financial or otherwise.
Yeah. And I also think the corollary to that, I mean, I think actually I’d like to put this in a positive frame, which is in fact you’re more likely to succeed doing something that is in line with your passion than when you’re doing something that, may be somebody else’s choice of what they think you’d be good at or that you should do.
I think you’re more likely to succeed when you’re aligned with your passion.
[00:16:51] Robert Hossary: That actually is an excellent point to solidify this lesson that nobody knows you better than you.
[00:16:59] Niels Marquardt: Correct.
[00:17:00] Robert Hossary: Don’t let someone else decide what you’re good at and what you want to do.
[00:17:06] Niels Marquardt: I absolutely believe that that’s very well said Robert.
[00:17:09] Robert Hossary: No, that’s your lesson Niels. That, that is, that is excellent. So, lesson number three was your passion may not lead to success, but pursue it anyway. And listeners, this is a very valuable lesson. Out of all our podcasts, out of all the lessons that we’ve had so far, this is one of the most powerful ones. So, if you need to rewind and listen to this lesson again, I’d strongly urge you to do it.
[00:17:34] Lesson 4: We Are Often Our Own Worst Enemy.
[00:17:34] Robert Hossary: All right. Let’s move on. lesson number four. And this is something I absolutely agree with because I probably have done it myself. Lesson number four, we are probably our own worst enemy.
[00:17:48] Niels Marquardt: Well, in a job that I have the volunteer job I do at Lewis and Clark, my main job is, advising students on, potential career paths that would take them overseas.
And there are a lot of students at this particular college that, uh, you know, study abroad and come back and sort of wonder, you know, what can you do next? So, in fact, yesterday I was giving a presentation on that very topic with, um, obviously. A bit of a focus on the foreign service. For those that might want to become diplomats themselves.
And it really struck me how, the odds of actually getting through the sort of gauntlet of tests and, other obstacles is, difficult and you know, the numbers are not good. And there are many things in life where you’d have to look at the numbers. You go, well, I’m not going to get picked for that.
I mean, I was recently on the Fulbright committee to help the student help students and graduates of Lewis and Clark, try to get accepted for Fulbright, scholarships and fellowships abroad. Again, very competitive, the odds aren’t very good. It just brought me back to the way I felt when I was in my twenties and, uh, you know, I didn’t, I wasn’t overconfident, you know, I mean, some people have the problem with being overconfident.
I never had that problem. And, you know, you look at something like a career in diplomacy and you sort of look around at who else is applying in there. You know, maybe they went to better schools, or they come from better families, or they have, you know, a better background they’ve travelled more, they speak foreign languages better and maybe speak more of them.
I don’t know. It’s so easy to psych yourself out. And, uh, you know, I’ve just found, in the course of my own career that, that, you know, that’s a very destructive, self-defeating habit. To the extent you can buck yourself up and convince yourself that you’re worthy. And don’t let don’t play me games in your head where you are looking at other people in, in your sort of, peer group and, and ascribing superhuman qualities to them, to your detriment.
And I, I find that talking to students all the time and they’re just thinking, well, how’s that going to happen to me? And it’s like, you know, somebody’s going to get that job or somebody who’s going to get that fellowship and why not you? You know, you can’t talk everybody into, a high level of success.
Uh, the converse, you know, talking yourself out of, uh, you know, high level of success. I think that’s pretty common and should be avoided.
[00:20:13] Robert Hossary: It’s very common. Uh, I love what you just said. Why not you? How many times have we all, and we’ve all done it, talked ourselves out of it been our own worst enemy as your lesson points out and it’s to be aware of it, to be conscious of it is important to know that you’re doing that to yourself.
You’re undermining your own success by not giving yourself the chance to be successful in whatever you’re trying to do. It doesn’t mean you will be, what’s that old saying? Um, if you think you can, or if you think you can’t you’re right.
[00:20:52] Niels Marquardt: That’s a good way of putting it.
[00:20:54] Robert Hossary: Excellent lesson Niels.
[00:20:56] Lesson 5: Instill Pride In Others
[00:20:56] Robert Hossary: Lesson number five, this is something I’ve always subscribed to. And I know you have, and I’d love to hear your story on this instill pride in others.
[00:21:06] Niels Marquardt: Yeah, I think I was.
Um, well, you mentioned in your introduction that I had worked on this diplomatic readiness initiative, which I’ve thought about a lot this week because of the passing of Colin Powell, who was really one of the great men that I ever met and had the privilege of working anywhere close to, I wasn’t a close associate.
It is, but, you know, I saw him a number of times and what I was doing was important to him and it was important to me to be successful because he wanted it to be successful. but, uh, the, the lesson on it was, you know, I got a call one day and said, and they, and they said, I know you have a job and it’s not this job, but you’re going to be doing a different job.
And it’s going to be running this diplomatic readiness initiative, which is a new thing in the state department. And it’s important. And, uh, you know, it wasn’t a request. It was an order. And I said, absolutely, I’ll do it. And I did it for three years. So, most of Colin Powell’s, 10 years as secretary of state, you know, I was there working on this project, which was extremely successful under his leadership.
And I think I would give him, you know, obviously I’d give him the full credit for it because he gave us the tools and the resources that we needed. But the interesting thing, the guests to this lesson was, the team that I could pull together to work on this was I think I used the word dream team in my, the way I expressed this lesson.
You don’t always get your dream team, but you still have to, achieve your goals. And you in instilling pride in the effort is part of that success. And so, we pulled people that didn’t have jobs. And I mean, and some people said here, you take this person. And so, we put together a really diverse team of people from extremely different backgrounds.
some had just gone through, you know, been pulled back from overseas because there had been a family tragedy. There are all, everybody had a story and a, except me really, I’d just been given the job and, uh, you know, so we’re all on this team. and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life just achieving the positive result that we were aiming for with this team that was, you know, kind of accidental, and every step of the way just making and people, you can see there are proud to get.
I mean, they were proud to be on Colin Powell’s team, you know, it was really a lot about him. I mean the state department in the nineties was so beaten down. Uh, I mean, if I can say it’s been it’s a little bit, like it was the last four years, really beaten down and under resourced underappreciated underutilized.
And then along comes quote, Colin Powell and says, Hey, we’re turning this around and you guys are going to better get up to speed. So, we actually put him on the poster that was, you know, all over the country and all over the internet. And it said a picture of Colin Powell looked a little bit like sort of Uncle Sam without a ridiculous hat.
And it said, you know, this man has a very important job for you. And, uh, the nine 11 came along. That was a bit of a speed bump. And that two weeks later we had the foreign service exam take place. In 2001, September of 2001, we had triple the number of people sitting for the exam than had, taken it in, uh, in probably decades.
and so, they just, we had to stop and just celebrate those successes along the way and make sure everybody was, was feeling proud of what we were able to do. And I think, I really think they did.
[00:24:37] Robert Hossary: And that’s the nub of the lesson. It wasn’t so much that you were incredibly successful because you guys were great.
The nub of the lesson is that you instilled that pride. Um, your boss, Colin Powell, instilled that pride in you. You instilled that pride in your team so that everybody in the entire project is, was proud of the result of the product that they were producing.
[00:25:05] Niels Marquardt: That’s true. And I’ll just say something about the safe department culture, in the state department culture, the historically working on human resource issues has not been seen as the sexiest thing to be involved in.
Right. And so along comes Colin Powell and he says like, you know, you can take care of your troops. You can’t do something with nothing. You need more people. They need to be the best people you can get, go out and get them. We wrote that a note to me, he says, go get them Niels. So, you know, I remember that.
And so, we went out and got them. And, uh, you know, today I just sent a note to somebody who was hired 19 years ago under this initiative. Who’s now in a high position. So, it’s, it’s actually where you can see, I maybe in my voice and my face is continuing pride over what this team was able to do.
[00:25:53] Robert Hossary: I can definitely see that. I can definitely hear it in your voice Niels, and I experienced what you’re talking about under your leadership. At AmCham, because you are still proud of what you were accomplishing there, you were proud of the team you had and what we were accomplishing there. And you instil that in us.
So, I understand the lesson and I can just say to our listeners, this is not rhetoric from ambassador Niels Marquardt. This is actual lived experience. This is something that Niels does because he believes in it, and it works. Believe me, it works. So that’s a great lesson Niels. Thank you so much.
[00:26:35] Lesson 6: If You Can’t Stay Out Of The Way, You Have Hired The Wrong People.
[00:26:35] Robert Hossary: Lesson number six is probably my favourite of your list. Actually, I like a whole list, but this one is just quintessentially Niels Marquardt for me. if you can’t stay out of the way you have hired the wrong person, I love it.
[00:26:52] Niels Marquardt: you know, I mean, I think particularly in an organization that, that, that can draw, excellent talent.
As a manager, you need to have a light touch. You need to give minimal guidance, let people’s creativity flow, let them grow in their jobs and let them step up and take ownership of the things that on paper it says there they are responsible for. I know that my myself, when somebody gave me detailed instructions about how to take on a challenge or a job that, that did not make my day, you know, it was like a fine tell me what the result you want.
And I will, figure out my way, my way of achieving it. And hopefully you’ll be happy. I think, look, I think most people like that. And if they’re, if they don’t like that and they want you to tell them everything that they need to know, then you’ve got the wrong person in the job. In the State department, you don’t get much opportunity to fire people.
I mean, even as an ambassador, you have this ability to tell somebody they’re no longer welcome at post and send them on, you know, and I never once did that. Uh, there were probably one or two times when I may be should have. But I just felt like it was kind of like, it was like the nuclear option And there had to be a way to be able to work with a person unless they were really doing something, you know, criminal or, immoral or something. But that, I can’t say that happened. Also keeping in mind, maybe in a lot of work situation, certainly if your ambassador in a remote place like Madagascar, Cameroon, that is not the place that most people want to work.
And, you know, getting quality people to come to places like that is, is a real challenge. And, uh, it takes a lot of sort of outreach. And so, if you’ve got somebody on your staff, you’ve got to give them the benefit of the doubt, because I mean, if they leave and you know, maybe a long time before the next person comes and that person, next person may not be a superstar either. So, you know, you need to work with the people you’ve got. Um, so there’s a little bit of a mixed message here. One is, you know, uh, you know, staying out of people’s way and the other is, you know, kind of doing what you have to do to make things work with the people that you have on your team. I mean, it’s certainly true.
I mean, the U S right now, you can’t, you know, you can’t go to a restaurant or, you know, or to a store and be waited on properly because people are not working. Uh, we won’t give into all the reasons for that, but it, it sort of, I’m sure that there are a lot of managers around the country right now who are making, do with what they’ve got and trying to get the best result possible, uh, under less-than-ideal circumstances.
[00:29:31] Robert Hossary: It’s an interesting lesson Niels because it flies in the face of almost every, Managerial consultants’ advice, which is get rid of your bad actors. Some of them performing get rid of them, get them out of the, the, the operation and get someone who will actually do the job. So, it does fly in the face of that.
I understand what you’re saying, and I hear what you’re saying. I would like to perhaps offer this point of view that if your hiring process is better to begin with, then you’re not going to have as many of these issues.
[00:30:13] Niels Marquardt: Now. That’s absolutely true.
[00:30:14] Robert Hossary: So, if you, if you hire the right person and they’ve got the skills, they’ve got the talent get out of their way.
[00:30:22] Niels Marquardt: Yeah.
That’s what I mean, that’s my main point.
[00:30:26] Robert Hossary: Yeah. I’m with you, I would like to offer the opportunity to the team to get better, to learn from their mistakes. there’s a really, really old joke. Uh, it’s old because I’m old, but there’s an old joke. is in the IBM days when they were selling mainframes and, you know, um, a salesperson had lost a $10 million deal and he walks into his boss’s office with a resignation letter, and he offers it.
And the boss looks at him, says, I’m not going to fire you. I just spent $10 million educating you really old joke. But the point is still there. The point is still valid. Train your people, get them to learn from the mistakes. Don’t punish them for the mistakes, unless of course, you know, they deserve to be punished for the mistake, but they’re your team.
And that’s what you’re saying. That’s exactly what you’re saying. Get out of their way, but also encourage them.
[00:31:22] Niels Marquardt: I mean on this topic though. ultimately those consultants are right. If you’ve got somebody that really is not performing, uh, I think I wrote down, they are, they can become a cancer on your organization.
Everyone else looks at them and sees what they’re getting away with feels put upon because many of them are probably doing work that, uh, are cleaning up messes that, you know, the other person is causing. They absolutely cannot let that happen. That is one of the worst things you can do for the health of your organization.
[00:31:53] Robert Hossary: as I said, I can talk about lesson 6 forever,
[00:31:55] Lesson 7: Listen.
[00:31:55] Robert Hossary: but let’s move on to lesson number seven, probably the simplest, and most powerful lesson that we have is this one. So, lesson, number seven, listen.
[00:32:08] Niels Marquardt: So, yeah, it’s an underrated, skill, I think. And, uh, particularly in a leader or a CEO or an ambassador, it’s very tempting to just be telling people what you think they should be doing. But I mean, I think, I think back to my first day at AmCham with you and the other state managers and, really spending some time listening to what all you thought needed to be done.
Yeah. The same thing when I went to Cameroon, uh, you know, I hadn’t been in Africa for a long time. I’d never set foot in Cameroon. And then, uh, and you know, I sat down with my team there for an entire day not that long after I got there to sort of hear them talk about what they thought, the focus of our mission or our shared mission should be. It’s pretty much the same thing I was trying to do at AmCham early on. Although I came in with some pretty strong ideas already, I guess it comes down to, this is, you know, if you want to change the course of an organization, that’s a lot more easy, if not easier, and it’s going to be more successful to move it in the direction that the organization thinks it should go.
Then do you try to impose your own view, contrary to what the team thinks. If you’ve got a lack of alignment between what you think should happen and what they think should happen, you’ve got a problem. But quite often by listening, you’ll find enough. Uh, let’s say you get 70%. Commonality that you know that you agree on.
That that’s the 70% you want to focus on for success. and if, you know, if you’re focused on the other 30%, you you’re really trying to twist arms and, and swim upstream, and it’s going to be a lot harder.
[00:33:50] Robert Hossary: So, the point is both sides. Anybody in no matter where you are, no matter what position you’re in, whether it’s business, whether it’s life, listen, it’s so simple. And as Niels pointed out, it’s such an underrated skill.
[00:34:06] Niels Marquardt: It’s just, if you listen to anything can happen.
And if you don’t listen very little, will happen.
In terms of harnessing the energy and I could go on, on that one too, but, um, uh, managing the clock.
[00:34:21] Robert Hossary: I, well, I I’d rather not, but yes, we have to because our listeners don’t want to be listening to us talk for three hours. okay. That is a very good one. Thank you for that.
[00:34:32] Lesson 8: If They Don’t Know You, They Won’t Care
[00:34:32] Robert Hossary: Let’s move to lesson number eight, which is really, really interesting. And I want to hear this if they don’t know you, they won’t care.
[00:34:45] Niels Marquardt: So yeah, I learned this the hard way. Uh, you know, I mean, there’s no, probably more remote place on the planet, you know, to be stuck in the middle of a political crisis than Madagascar. And, uh, that was the experience I had there for three years, you know, kind of a slow boil political crisis, a coup and then the aftermath of the coup and, you know, I had, I had been in Cameron before that, they’re going to change of government.
Pretty much everybody in the state department that dealt with African affairs had turned over or moved on to different jobs. And I had sort of, uh, maybe got a little bit overconfident about just, you know, That I can handle things. and then this problem came along with this coup in Madagascar. and I realized, too late and I will get that I wasn’t on the phone, like all the time talking to, or even often talking to my, you know, senior colleagues in the department, my superiors, the people that could help me and the people that would have an impact on what I was able to do.
and you know that it was almost like a divergence, and I went off this way and they went off that way. I mean, this was the beginning of the Obama administration. We had a new secretary of state. Everybody was new. And at the beginning of the crisis, most of the people were in acting positions rather than confirmed positions.
So, they didn’t feel confident in their authority anyway. but the results were not good, because I was second guessed. I didn’t know who was second guessing me because I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me. So, they, there was no reason to pick up the phone and say, you know, have a little, you know, honest conversation with this ambassador off on this Indian ocean island in the midst of political chaos.
And you know, we ended up with some very undesirable outcomes. Like having the determination made in Washington against my will, that everybody should be evacuated from the embassy, all the families, my family, a lot of people who were deemed to be a non-essential personnel, which is what happens in that crisis.
And yet, you know, we ended up the United States ended up being the only embassy, the only country that evacuated its people, we look really stupid and, you know, I knew that, but I was unable to convey that in a good persuasive way to people in Washington. So, I just realized, you know, I may be the chief of mission.
I may be the president’s personal representative and maybe all these things that, you know, that, ambassadors sometimes convince themselves that they are. But in the, in the end, you’re just another cog in the wheel and you better know the other cogs are and, and work closely with them to avoid outcome that, you really don’t want to live with, I mean, it wasn’t fatal to anybody, you know, happily, but it wasn’t pleasant.
[00:37:43] Robert Hossary: The, the upshot of all of this is that because you weren’t in, I mean, putting aside the new administration and the turmoil, because you weren’t in communication with head office.
[00:37:59] Niels Marquardt: Yeah.
[00:37:59] Robert Hossary: They didn’t know who you were.
[00:38:01] Niels Marquardt: Yeah. And I think, you know, going back to my first lesson, I mean, they probably did, you know, they did, imagine things about me that, you know, that weren’t, that weren’t helpful.
[00:38:11] Robert Hossary: So, keep the communication up, let people know who you are
[00:38:15] Niels Marquardt: know who, you are, you know, and just, just invest in those relationships before you need to cash them in.
[00:38:23] Robert Hossary: I like that one listeners. This is the, what you should hear invest in the relationships before you cash them in. That is a very good way to round off that lesson that’s very good.
[00:38:37] Lesson 9: Who Do You Work For?
[00:38:37] Robert Hossary: Lesson, number nine, you’re a very family orientated, man. we know this and lesson number nine, who do you work for?
[00:38:47] Niels Marquardt: Well, that’s true. You know, it’s like you work for your family, you know, and you know, ultimately that’s been what I’ve been retired from foreign service eight years.
I was last an ambassador, 11 years ago. That’s all really heady stuff. You know, I haven’t been at AmCham in four years. and it just, when you, when it’s all over all you’ve got as your family and, you know, you want that to be, like a place you returned to that is supportive and loving and where you don’t have regrets about what you should’ve done or would’ve done, in terms of building those most important relationships.
So, you know, I think you have choices along the way in your career. Again, the foreign service is more dramatic than most places because we are talking about uprooting, you know, everybody changing schools, changing languages, changing cultures, changing climates. I mean, everything changes when you go from, France to, Australia, to Cameron, you know, so keeping your eye on, uh, what’s, what’s good for the kids.
I mean, the story that, uh, you know, that brought it out to me the most was, after, well, about, about 20 years ago, I had a very good relationship with the director general of the foreign service, who was sort of my boss’s boss. And, uh, he was actually named ambassador to Australia. and I never said foot in Australia.
And of course, I mean, I hope you Aussies know how much every American loves your country and wishes they could go there. And if you’re a diplomat, I mean, we saw that, you know, in Sydney, when, you know, they told everybody that went to Iraq or Afghanistan, they could choose where they went, went after Iraq or Afghanistan.
And God knows how many people we had in that consulate general that had come from Iraq and Afghanistan.
But, you know, 20 years, 20 years ago when I was offered the chance to go to Canberra, uh, when this, when this ambassador was, assigned as ambassador Australia, And, you know, he called me up to his office and we’d worked together. I, and I really hadn’t known him that long, but we worked together really well.
And he said, uh, Neil’s, I’d really like you to go and be my deputy in Australia. And, and I was just immediately turning through my head was this is, this is the only opportunity I’m ever going to have to go live and work in this wonderful country Australia. and then I turned in, I said, you know, I’m going to ha I don’t even have to take this one home to my wife or think about it overnight or all the usual things that people say.
So, I have to tell you, I can’t do it. I cannot do it at the time we had a medical issue in the family, and I would just have been way too selfish really for me to do that. So, I turned them down and I just thought, well, I’d never gone to Australia.
I mean, there is some poetic justice because 10 years later, of course, I ended up being assigned as the Consul General in Sydney, which is, I think, uh, you know, most Australians would probably agree a better job than being the deputy in Canberra at that.
[00:41:37] Robert Hossary: Well, a better city, not as cold. Yep. You’re right.
[00:41:42] Niels Marquardt: I mean, you know, Canberra gets it.
Doesn’t get a fair shake. It’s a great place, but, uh, it’s not Sydney.
[00:41:48] Robert Hossary: It’s not, but the nub of your lesson is, and it’s been said by many of our guests, your family is important. Work will any place you work, we’ll fire you without a moment’s hesitation. If you’re not right. If you’re not the right fit, if you’re not productive for them, they owe you nothing.
Your family will always be there. So
[00:42:18] Niels Marquardt: at this point in my life, I can remember the, the family things that I missed. I mean, I didn’t attend a single one of my daughter’s college graduations, which are, you know, let’s face it. They’re a little bit overrated as events,
[00:42:34] Robert Hossary: but
[00:42:35] Niels Marquardt: I mean, for every single one of them, I was overseas somewhere, and I just couldn’t be there.
My wife was there for all of them, I will say happily. And I don’t remember what it was that I was doing instead.
[00:42:47] Robert Hossary: And isn’t, isn’t that the point you weren’t there because something was so important, you had to be elsewhere. Whereas you would remember being at your child’s graduation, but you can’t remember where you were instead of your child’s graduation.
Let me, let me. And make this very clear listeners. This is an important, very, very important point. That Niels brings up. If it’s so important that you be elsewhere, other than your family, then why can’t you remember where you were instead of that family gathering, where that family event and that’s the lesson, that brings home this point.
So, who do you work for? You’re there for your family? Everyone else is pretty much not. Doesn’t really care about you as much as you think they do. And from Niels. And I believe he, we both experienced that in our careers.
[00:43:48] Lesson 10: You Can Recover From Most Mistakes
[00:43:48] Robert Hossary: All right, let’s move on to our 10th and final lesson Niels. This is lesson number ten.
And I’m really glad to hear this because I’ve made many of them, you can recover from your mistakes.
[00:44:04] Niels Marquardt: Yeah. It’s uh, you know, it’s, again, it’s the first, there are a number of the lessons are about not psyching yourself out. And, uh, uh, I think, you know, we tend, we tend to sort of, you know, when we do make a mistake and we all do, uh, we tend to ascribe to it a much greater weight or permanency.
I’ll never recover from this. and you know, I, I, what I’ve just found is when you make a mistake, it’s probably the last person to forgive you is yourself and everybody else, assuming you’re, it’s not a regular habit, you know, everybody else is going to be a lot more, forgiving of, of those.
events than you are. And then the other way I put it was, you know, it’s always brighter in the morning, you know, he just, at the end of the day, whatever’s happened has happened. And I can, you know, we can all think back to a number of moments where we just thought gloom and doom horrible day. I really, maybe I’ve made a fatal error here.
I mean, fatal is probably not the right word, but a very super serious here. And they wake up in the next morning after you you’ve finally gotten to sleep. and not only is it not as serious, but you’ve already started to figure out how you’re going to mitigate whatever damage you’ve done, what the next step is going to be.
And I, I was in Cameroon, you know, because I listened so carefully to my staff. They convinced me that I should make a really big public speech about corruption in this very corrupt country where nobody talked about corruption and only the American ambassador could possibly broach the subject, uh, and get away with it.
And so, you know, so they talked me into it, and I thought it was a great idea. I gave this blistering speech that was on national television in Cameroon. And, you know, there’s just this big silence big public silence, big headlines too, you know, but a big public silence. And, uh, and I thought, oh God, you know, maybe I’m going to be sent home, you know, cause that’s the diplomacy and they can do that.
And they don’t, I mean, that’s like a Turkey today. They’re talking about sending diplomats home because the president didn’t like what they said, that happens. So, you know, I, just went through a period of a few days where I just didn’t really know had I made a mistake or not. Well, it turned out it wasn’t a big, it wasn’t a mistake at all.
It was the best thing I ever did. And it was the most successful thing I could have done. And it completely changed the whole impact of my tenure as ambassador to Cameroon. And now I’m not claiming that I cleaned up corruption. It’s still a pretty corrupt and you don’t have to edit that out.
It’s just a statement of fact, but, Turned out to be a really good thing. And what I thought initially, hadn’t been a big overreach and a big mistake turned out not to have been that at all,
[00:46:46] Robert Hossary: the lesson that you can recover that wasn’t a mistake. So, you, you didn’t need to recover from it.
but it’s a, it’s a great anecdote to which, which shows that
[00:46:57] Niels Marquardt: you thought for a period of time.
[00:47:01] Robert Hossary: Going back to your lesson, and I will use perhaps things in my career that have happened to me. I have, I have lost positions. I have lost big deals. I have, ended relationships and friendships and you know what, ladies and gentlemen that I recovered from that I got a new job.
I got new friends, but the people I ended with we’re still on good terms. So, It’s not going back to what our Niels, previous lessons. It’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, but you will recover. We had a, um, one of our more popular podcasts with, a guest called Andrew Tyndale. One of his lessons was very simple.
It was this too shall pass.
[00:47:46] Niels Marquardt: That’s a good way of putting
[00:47:47] Robert Hossary: it. And it will. Yeah, just like, just like this, this health crisis. We’ve all gone through in the last two years. This too shall pass. So, it’s not as bad as you make it out to be and you will recover.
Well Niels. They were 10 wonderful lessons. But now let me ask you a very different lesson from you in your 50 plus years in business, in, in, in work life, in, in life in general.
Is there a lesson that you have unlearned, something that you believed in something that you held onto then, but now through the years through wisdom through experience, you’ve decided no, that wasn’t the right thing to believe in, or that was the right thing to do?
So, what have you learned?
[00:48:42] Niels Marquardt: Well, look, I think, now with the luxury of a lot of time to think about things and, uh, no career pressures on me, I, I think when I look back, I, I, I’m very aware of the extent to, which kind of ambition and, you know, with it ego. it can be, an excessive driver of things in that, I was very happy to be successful in the safety department to be named an ambassador, and all the things that came with it and after, but I, you know, if I had to do it over again, I would frankly, just tone it down, turn it down a little bit and not, not have been in such a hurry and not have been in such a competitive mind frame, uh, you know, comparing my career with that of my peers and, you know, life is a, you know, it’s a trite thing to say, but you know, it’s a journey, it’s not a destination.
And, you know, so when you end up going to retirement, you know, in your early sixties, I mean I’m happy to be retired and so I’m going in the wrong direction there, but you can look back and just realize that you could have taken a more leisurely. smelled the roses along the way. And probably still been just fine, you know?
and I, you know, I see some of my, some of the people that I started with in the foreign service, now almost 41 years ago. Uh, we’re just over 41 years ago are still there. Uh, they took a more leisurely path, and still achieve great Heights. And I’m not saying I wish I was still there. I don’t. Uh, but I, I think being in a hurry to get through life is that’s a mistake.
[00:50:18] Robert Hossary: it is, it’s very interesting that you, you see the rush and the ambition and the ego, and mind you, I agree with all of that, by the way. You would have people say, well, you know, that’s what makes, makes us great. That’s what makes people successful, but how much do you miss out on the way?
[00:50:37] Niels Marquardt: no, I think that’s true. And I think it’s important to have, ambition, but I think it’d be ambition should be channelled into a collective ambition or not an individual ambition, uh, you know, pride in other’s success as much as your own. Uh, and those are hard things to live.
[00:50:55] Robert Hossary: I, yeah, yeah, no, I agree, if we go back and look at all your 10 lessons, Niels, they all feed into each other and they all come up with exactly what you’ve just said. we did also have a guest just to, to go back a second. We had a guest, Andrew Bacevich, you may or may not know who, one of his lessons was ambition causes blindness, and that is just so, so crystal clear and it backs up everything that you have just said, personal ambition ego-driven ambition does cause blindness causes your blindness.
You don’t see what you’re missing out on, but. We, we take what you said and look at the collective ambition for a cause ambition for a purpose, uh, that benefits your community, is a good thing and will lead to better things.
Well, Niels, this has been absolutely wonderful. I have really enjoyed our time with you today. I’ve enjoyed your 10 lessons and I’m sure our listeners have enjoyed your 10 lessons. is there anything that you would like to leave us with before we sign off?
[00:52:06] Niels Marquardt: No, I think that’s a, that’s enough food for thought from me today.
And Thanks for asking me onto your podcast and Bravo for what you’re doing to create stimulating conversation for, for everyone to listen to.
[00:52:19] Robert Hossary: No, I appreciate that Niels. Thank you. And with that, I will just say you’ve been listening to the international podcast of 10 lessons it took me 50 years to learn our guest today was ambassador Niels Marquardt.