Maryse and Peggy during a book signing in Washington, DC
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Maryse and Peggy during a book signing in Washington, DC

Precedence with a Purpose: Our Journey

As we age, life seems to go by faster. The journey of life is fleeting and I am sure many of us look back and wonder and marvel at how we got to be where we are and doing what we are doing. I believe these moments may be frequent in the life of a Protocol Officer. It’s an exciting journey and sometimes it goes by so fast, we don’t take the time to savour the occasions. This year at the Protocol Diplomacy International - Protocol Officers Association (PDI-POA) forum in Washington, DC we remembered one of our dear colleagues, Ginger Barnard. We remembered her graciousness and humility among her various accomplishments. As one of the founding members of the Protocol Association she ensured a legacy for those coming after her. Maya Angelou said “if you get - give, when you learn – teach”! Ginger and her team created a platform for sharing and elevating Protocol by doing just that.  

My generation of protocol officers will remember the hardships of this career field, of learning by trial and error, having little recognition or understanding from others of what it is that encompasses protocol, and the lessons of refining human skills. Books of etiquette soon evolved into books about protocol and platforms like PDI were established for protocol officers to learn from each other. I found tremendous generosity among my colleagues in sharing information and knowledge and thereby elevating the relevance and importance of protocol as a career field. This experience of sharing establishes unique and precious connections among colleagues. This year at the forum together with my co-author, Peggy, I was blessed to have the amazing opportunity to launch our ground-breaking book on one criterion of protocol – Precedence. During my more than 30 years in an international environment I felt most vulnerable when establishing precedence lists. There is so much to consider and as the years past I kept learning new perspectives of looking at the same scenario. There is no objective common reality for everybody, but only a common reality for a group of people with the same blinders. This makes navigating precedence in the international arena a very tricky task. The importance of making connections and understanding our counterparts became more essential in the execution of our duties. Peggy and I were colleagues who worked together at NATO for many years. Over the years we learned to rely on each other for various things. We knew how to capitalize on each other’s strengths and weaknesses to create the synergy required for a successful team. We worked together on creating standardized protocol practices NATO wide, to develop a protocol course where we focused on soft skills, on what it takes to be human. Many of our colleagues were doing the same, and through the various forums and multiple books on protocol we were getting a lot more comfortable than when we first started … except in one area. That was precedence. This still made us very uneasy. We spent much time playing devils advocate on different scenarios. It was important. Precedence seemed to be what protocol was all about. It seemed to be the element that captured, “how you make people feel”. Precedence is not just an indication of your own roles and responsibilities, it sends a message to the other players. It is therefore crucial in creating an inclusive environment while also enabling the players to achieve their political mandates. Therefore, when we retired from NATO, we wrote a book on precedence.  

This journey of writing, “Precedence with a Purpose” has been inspiring. We are very grateful to so many colleagues who contributed to the book by graciously sharing their knowledge and special experiences with us. There are also those who not only shared, but encouraged, supported, edited and gave valuable advice. Then there were those colleagues who had gone before us and written very valuable books. This shared connection was very special. Not only did they provide advise on way ahead, but they understood the joy and satisfaction in the sense of accomplishment once that book is in print. I was told many times by my business partner and co-author of “An Experts’ Guide to International Protocol – Best Practice in Diplomatic and Corporate Relations”, Mark Verheul, what a rewarding experience it is. I can’t echo these words enough. I will add, it is also a very frustrating and hard job. I recall spending hours discussing a simple sentence with my co-author. However, writing the book was not nearly as challenging as navigating the publishing process until we found the right publisher for us. I bought a book on Amazon entitled, “How to get it published” which I found extremely useful, I took copious notes from Robert Hickey, who had been in the industry and understood it well. Lanie Denslow shared her experiences with me. Richard Williams, Mark Verheul, Amb Csilla Würtz who edited our work. None of us is an island. It always takes a team. My niece, Fioriana Larché shared her artistic talent and designed the front cover of our book. The joy Peggy and I shared with so many contributors when we held our first printed edition in our hand was a very precious and hard-won experience. Thank you to all who helped us along the way. Our publisher worked hard in getting the book out in time for the Protocol and Diplomacy Conference and for that we are most grateful. As we celebrate the coming together of this book, I am reminded of the words of another author, Tom Wilson – “Many of us are more capable than some of us, but none of us is as capable as all of us!”

Enjoy reading our book!

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