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

The Golden Manager’s Rule

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As anyone who's aspired to the Senior Executive Service likely knows, the Office of Personnel Management has identified 28 executive core qualifications for agencies to consider when screening candidates. Those aiming to reach the top leadership layer of the career civil service try to ensure that they get opportunities to develop the skills and abilities on the list as they move up the General Schedule scale.

The qualifications range from general traits such as creativity and innovation, external awareness and decisiveness to specific skill sets such as technology management, influencing/negotiating and conflict management. Agencies rate prospective senior executives in those areas, so it's important that candidates have examples that prove they have developed those skills.

One relatively recent addition to the qualifications list encourages rising stars not to focus solely on their own advancement. OPM calls it developing others. Its inclusion reminds executives that one of their central jobs is to help their subordinates and colleagues learn. Its absence from the list until two years ago only highlights how important it is. If you haven't been developing others, then how can you consider yourself a leader?

The centrality of developing others to an executive's effectiveness is highlighted in the definition that the agency uses on its qualifications list. "Develops the ability of others to perform and contribute to the organization by providing ongoing feedback and by providing opportunities to learn through formal and informal methods," OPM explains. To put it another way, developing others means teaching, mentoring and coaching. It means making sure people know what they need to do their jobs well.

It means leading.

Developing others does not mean simply shipping people off to conferences and learning assignments. Although encouraging employees to attend training is certainly a laudable means of instruction, the most important method of development is the one-on-one interaction a leader has with employees. OPM emphasizes providing ongoing feedback. That calls for managers to talk to their employees about how they're doing more often than just at annual performance reviews. Indeed, quarterly reviews don't make the cut either. Ongoing means at every worthwhile opportunity.

In addition to formal development programs, OPM calls for informal guidance. Strong leaders talk with employees all the time, offering counsel not only from behind their desk, but at the water cooler or while walking down the hall as well.

Developing others means giving employees exciting and challenging assignments that provide them opportunities to learn new skills. Sometimes leaders might be able to handle those assignments more easily themselves; they might even prefer to do so for fear that an employee could mess it up. But good leaders are constantly thinking about their employees' talents and potential and finding ways to develop them even further.

There are many ways to teach, coach and mentor. Developing the ability to develop others takes practice. But luckily, opportunities abound.

The "others" are all around you.

Brian Friel covered management and human resources at Government Executive for six years and is now a National Journal staff correspondent.

 
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