Meet Prudence Bushnell, the petite former ambassador to Guatemala and Kenya and current dean of the Foreign Service Institute’s School of Leadership and Management. From her office on the fourth floor of Building E on the Foreign Service Institute’s spacious Arlington, Va., campus, Bushnell and her staff are responsible for training those tapped by the president to be ambassadors to various countries. During two weeks of intensive coursework, the ambassadors-to-be learn the finer points of their new job: staff management, media relations, and other diplomatic skills. But the course covers more than the niceties of party planning and fork-using. In recent years, security issues have become a primary focus of the training curriculum–and as a woman whose embassy was blown up from under her while she was in Kenya, Bushnell knows the importance of precautionary measures. “We’re training people to look both ways before they cross the street,” she says.

The one trait that matters most, according to Bushnell, is leadership–the ability to manage and guide a disparate community of government employees and expatriates while simultaneously promulgating American interests and values through the auspices of the mission. Bushnell trains both career diplomats and political appointees and professes to find little difference between State Department veterans and big-money campaign donors. “Most of the people from outside are leaders anyway,” says Bushnell. Of course, it’s possible she’s only being diplomatic, considering some of Bush’s past appointees–like Utah shopping mall developer John Price, best known for being sued for unscrupulous business practices before being named Ambassador to Mauritius, and Nancy Brinker, Ambassador to Sweden and wife of creator of Bennigan’s. Still, Bushnell treats all comers equally. “It really doesn’t matter whether you’re career or non-career,” says Bushnell. “[The job] is absolutely unique.”

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Justin Peters

Justin Peters is a correspondent for Slate and a contributing editor at the Columbia Journalism Review.