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

Donald Trump and the Legacy of Andrew Jackson

Steve Bannon, the media executive and soon-to-be White House strategist, has been describing Donald Trump’s victory as just the beginning.  “Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism,” he told the Hollywood Reporter, “we’re going to build an entirely new political movement.”

Newt Gingrich has compared Trump to Jackson for some time. Rudolph Giuliani declared on election night that it was “like Andrew Jackson’s victory. This is the people beating the establishment.” That may seem a comforting comparison, since it locates Donald Trump in the American experience and makes his election seem less of a departure.

Is Trump’s victory really like Jackson’s? On the surface, yes: In 1828, an “outsider” candidate appealed directly to the people against elites he called corrupt. A deeper look at Jackson’s victory complicates the comparison, but still says much about America then and now. 

Jackson’s road to victory began with a defeat. He was a Tennessee politician and plantation owner turned soldier, a man who, unlike Trump, had deep experience in government. As a general, he became the greatest hero of the War of 1812, and capitalized on his fame by running for president in 1824. But the electoral votes were...

Welcome to the End of Business as Usual in Government

Consider this as a friendly forewarning. It was prompted by a Washington Post article, “Trump has a plan for government workers. They’re not going to like it.” 

Leaders who join the new administration from the business world are likely to focus far more on internal performance issues. It is common for corporate executives to have regular staff meetings where each attendee reports on progress in achieving goals. New leaders will want the assurance that operations are progressing as planned, and where there are problems, they will want to know that corrective actions have been taken. Their approach to management is likely to expose what is the weakest link in government’s “people management” practices—the management of performance.

Laughter could be the most positive reaction to the performance ratings. New agency leaders will expect their reports to commit to stretch performance goals and are not likely to accept excuses for missing the goals. Accountability is assumed. For many it will not be an easy transition.

Generally, as long as projects stay on schedule, leaders from the business world are not likely to get involved; they are accustomed to delegating responsibility. With initiatives to strengthen workforce performance, corporate leaders would...

Leadership Lessons from the Classroom

The late great jazz trumpet player, composer, arranger and bandleader, Maynard Ferguson, was once asked why he devoted so much time to teaching young music students. His answer (I paraphrase) echoes in my mind to this day: “If you can teach, why wouldn’t you?” You got the impression from Maynard that teaching for him was a natural extension of living, breathing and playing the trumpet. The same goes for the best leaders in our organization. Effective leaders teach.

A fair number of my friends and colleagues think I’m nuts with my teaching load. In addition to coaching and speaking, I spend a significant number of evenings in classrooms with working professionals of all ages and vocations. I teach management and leadership courses, however, the content is almost subtext for the work of life that goes on in the classroom setting.

Four Leadership Lessons from Teaching

Here in no particular order are the lessons I gain (and am constantly reminded of) in this work that has become so important for me:

1. Every individual staring back at you on day one is on a personal mission. Most people are there to improve themselves and their situation. More than a...

Introverts Can Use Vulnerability to Become Strong Leaders

On Nov. 7, 2012, Jess Lee published a blog post titled “Why startup founders are so unhappy.” In it, she reflected on her experience building the fashion tech site Polyvore, and the unique challenges she faced as a self-described introverted CEO.

At the time, Polyvore was cash-flow positive and approaching 20 million unique visitors per month. The company had raised a $14 million Series C round earlier that year (and more than $20 million total). The five-year-old start-up was proving itself a success. Even so, Lee said that she struggled with moments of “extreme unhappiness”—something she identified as universal among startup founders, no matter their temperament, because of the high volatility and uncertainty of the journey. But early on, her introversion held her back in dealing with that unhappiness in one critical way.

Because she hated networking so much, she mostly kept her head down during Polyvore’s early years. In hindsight, she identified that as one of her biggest mistakes:

Without any perspective from other founders, my only data points on startups came from TechCrunch, which is filled with overnight success stories and positive spin. Therefore, every one of Polyvore’s problems felt like the end of the...

Why Donald Trump (and His Family) Won’t Be Subject to Security Clearance Background Checks

The campaign is finally over, but the questions continue to come in. In the aftermath of one of the most contentious political campaigns in recent history many people have expressed concerns about the president and the security clearance process. Here are three of the most recently asked questions, along with their answers.

1. Does the President Have a Security Clearance? (And related: What happens if President-elect Donald Trump can’t pass a security screening?)

The president of the United States is not subjected to a background investigation and doesn’t hold a security clearance in the traditional sense. That may sound strange at first, given the fact that even a chef at the CIA requires a top secret security clearance. But because the president is the person who actually establishes classification procedures, he or she can declassify something at any point.

Procedure aside, it simply wouldn’t be practical for the president to undergo a traditional background investigation process. Particularly considering the logistics nightmare if a background investigator flagged issues – let’s say previous issues with classification procedures or an ongoing lawsuit, for instance.

2. Can a person run for president even if they can’t hold a security clearance...

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