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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

The Big Mistake Most People Make When They Receive Negative Feedback

  • By Kenneth Savitsky, Jeremy Cone, Jeffrey Rubel and Richard P. Eibach
  • March 29, 2017
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Nobody enjoys getting negative feedback. When we receive an unflattering performance review from our boss or get turned down by a date, it’s human nature to try to feel better by dismissing the judgment as unreasonable or biased. And so, last month, when a federal judge blocked US president Donald Trump’s executive action banning travel to the US from seven Muslim-majority nations, it was no surprise that the president took to Twitter to criticize the “so-called” judge and dismiss the ruling as “ridiculous.”

But what if the negative feedback comes from a unanimous group rather than from one individual? In that case, it’s trickier to dismiss. One would have to argue that all members of the group are unreasonable or biased in the same way. Because a group often brings diverse perspectives, a unanimous group opinion would seem to sit on a broader, more stable foundation, making it harder to topple. And yet Trump was equally quick to disparage the unanimous ruling of a politically diverse three-judge panel that subsequently concurred with the original judge’s ruling. He buckled down by reintroducing a substantially similar version of his proposed ban, which was in turn subjected to a...

Unless You’re a Superstar, It’s Better to Keep Your Mouth Shut in The Workplace (Even in the NFL)

Last year, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew headlines for his refusal to stand for the national anthem, a protest against racial injustice in the US.

The American football player is now a free agent after spending six years with the San Francisco 49ers, including one where Kaepernick led them to the Super Bowl.

Many observers are saying his continued unemployment is a direct result of his protest, which rankled many conservative football fans. In the video below, the blogger calls him “Colin Kaeper-dick” for not standing during Military Appreciation Night.

But Kaepernick’s performances have also declined in that time, and he’s struggled to hold on to his starting position as a quarterback. With Kaepernick’s skills eroding, it’s much easier for NFL owners and general managers to pass on signing him, particularly if his salary demands don’t reflect his value.

As Joe Thomas, a tackle of the Cleveland Browns, suggests, teams have little appetite for marginal players who call attention to themselves:

Kaepernick’s plight exposes...

Good Leaders Don't Surround Themselves With Yes Men

In a much-circulated New York Times article (paywall) about US president Donald Trump’s inability to let grievances go, the closing anecdote was noteworthy. In it, Gary Cohn, one of Trump’s economic advisors and the former president of Goldman Sachs, has the temerity to interrupt the president:

In a recent meeting in the Oval Office, Mr. Cohn was speaking when Mr. Trump interrupted him. “Let me finish,’’ Mr. Cohn interjected, according to a person with knowledge of the interaction. Mr. Trump, unaccustomed to ceding the floor, let him make his point.

The exchange was news, because it was so unusual.

Three months into his administration, it’s clear Trump has little appetite for hearing views that diverge from his own. Whether it’s blasting critical reporting as “fake news,” refusing to back down from inaccuracies, or granting interviews to fawning admirers, Trump has created an environment that bolsters an ego that seems to need constant sustenance.

That extends to an inner circle, made up of political operatives, ideologues and family members. Very few seem willing to tell Trump when he’s wrong.

Escaping this cocoon of good news is a leader’s “no. 1 challenge,” according to Walt Bettinger...

Most in the Workplace Are Secretly Threatened By Creativity

Creativity is highly prized in Western society—much touted by cultures that claim to value individualism and the entrepreneurial spirit. But scratch beneath the surface, and it turns out that a lot of schools and businesses aren’t actually all that excited about bold new ideas. By and large, we tend to be threatened by creativity—and eager to shut it down.

The problem begins with education. We know that teachers say creativity is important. But research shows that many teachers define creativity as a skill that’s mainly associated with the arts—thereby downplaying the essential role that creativity plays in everything from math and science to argumentative writing and sports. Furthermore, teachers routinely label creative students as “disruptive,” treating outside-the-box thinking not as a strength but as a problem to be dealt with. So it should be no surprise that independent studies with thousands of participants, in the US and elsewhere, have confirmed that millennials are less motivated to elaborate on creative ideas, and more anxious about embracing them, than prior generations. Recent data show that millennials are also less likely to start new businesses—a trend that has contributed to the lowest number of US startups since...

Memo to OMB: Speed Kills

As was largely expected, the first budget proposal from the Trump Administration calls for major cuts across the civilian agencies and a substantial increase in defense spending. Less a budget than it is a broad spending outline, the proposal, even despite its lack of detail, has already generated fierce debate between the parties and within the GOP itself. Indeed, while the budget outline as constructed might be dead on arrival, it is clear that the goalposts have moved and the parameters of the spending debate have significantly changed.

But the challenges with this budget outline are significant. While the document allots 180 days for agencies to develop their detailed spending plans, the reality is that the legislative budget cycle is already underway and will be over by the time those analyses are completed. Further, the administration has committed to submitting a more detailed plan to congress in less than 60 days, raising questions about the ultimate relevance of the agency plans. In other words, we have two carts before the horse. As we have seen over and again, when organizations are given only a short time to hit tough budget targets they tend to default to spreading the cuts relatively...

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