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

How to Cope With an Anxiety-Provoking Boss

I’ve encountered all kinds of bosses in my career—introverts and extroverts, friendly ones and short-tempered ones, laid-back types and control freaks. But the five worst years of my life involved working for two bosses who were insecure.

Each one systematically degraded the team by hiring weak people they thought they could control. Each treated my success as a plot to embarrass (or even overthrow) them. Eventually, they had me questioning whether it was me who wasn’t cut out for the organization.

Indeed, when I survey employees in my work as an organizational psychologist, they say that even a consistently mean boss is preferable to the wild mood swings of an insecure one. Catch your insecure boss on a good day when he’s leading from a feeling of strength, and you are lulled into a false sense of security. Then, wham—a stray comment from the CEO taps into his anxiety, and suddenly he’s defensive, vindictive, and petty.

The worst part about working for an insecure boss is that you never know what to expect. I learned how to survive the hard way. But if you’re in a similar position, you may not have to...

Five Lessons Donald Trump Could Learn From Abraham Lincoln

How will Donald Trump observe Presidents Day?

Will he have the inclination or take the time to read about or reflect on the qualities of our greatest leaders?

Given how busy Trump is issuing executive orders, fighting with the judiciary, managing the scandal surrounding the dismissal of his national security advisor, becoming acquainted with world leaders and tweeting, the answer is probably no.

As a historian who has studied presidential leadership for decades, perhaps I can save him some time by suggesting a few things he might learn from the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.

Lesson 1: Grow a thick skin

Lincoln was more reviled than any American president. The opposition press described him as a “fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism,” a “worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed from the days of Nero” and “a vulgar village politician without any experience worth mentioning.” Even Lincoln’s now-classic Gettysburg Address was derided as a display of “ignorant rudeness.”

These attacks stung, but Lincoln refused to take the bait. “No man resolved to make the most of himself, can spare time for personal contention,” he wrote. “Still less can he afford to take all the...

Proof That All People in Power Should Get a Good Night's Sleep

Donald Trump does not believe in a good night’s sleep.

He fires off tweets at all hours and reportedly once called his national security advisor at 3am to ask a routine economic question. In an interview on Fox, Trump said he’s routinely up past midnight before waking at 5 am. That actually may be an improvement for him: at a 2015 campaign appearance, he boasted he got by on only three or four of sleep. “You know, I’m not a big sleeper, I like three hours, four hours, I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep, I want to find out what’s going on,” he said.

We know intuitively that we function better with more rest, and there’s scientific research to support that most people are less effective if they don’t get at least seven hours of sleep. And sleep deprivation costs the economy billions of dollars.

Now, a new study suggests lack of sleep makes it harder to regulate negative emotions, and could make managers and bosses (and presidents) more likely to lash out and be overly punitive. The paper, from a team of professors at the universities of Washington and Virginia, examined the sentencing...

The Lost Stories of NASA's 'Pink-Collar' Workforce

In 1962, a young reporter named Ursula Vils signed on to The Los Angeles Times at the beginning of the most spectacular and productive period of human spaceflight in United States history. A year earlier, Alan Shepard had become the first American to fly in space, and eight months later, John Glenn would become the first American to orbit the earth. Before the end of the decade, the United States would plant the stars and stripes on the moon.

As part of the paper’s coverage of the space program, Vils, a former women’s editor who would go on to work in the “Family” and “View” sections of the Times, contributed to a series on the women who worked at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, and other NASA centers and contractors. The series profiled women in various technical and clerical positions whose work contributed to what was by the mid-1960s a vast technological enterprise and a source of national prestige. 

Last year, women who worked in the space program and other scientific and technological institutions throughout the 20th century were given some long-overdue attention by new nonfiction books like Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt...

Do Performance Incentives Make People Greedy?

The promise of performance incentives starts early. Preschoolers get stickers for good behavior. Later, parents might buy their teenagers pizza for scoring well on tests. And in the business world, employers dangle bonuses for achieving certain goals.

But what do these incentives actually achieve? Researchers have studied their effects primarily from two angles: how well people perform and how they feel about the task for which they are being rewarded. But “there’s really a third question that, to the best of our knowledge, has not been asked,” says Loran Nordgren, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School. “Does it affect the value you place on the reward itself?”

In other words, does an employee in a commission-based job feel differently about money than a worker who earns a fixed salary?

The answer appears to be yes, according to new research from Nordgren. He and a coauthor found that people who are rewarded for their performance express more desire for money than people who receive fixed payments—even when the amounts they end up earning are similar.

This increased hunger for money can manifest itself in different ways, such as a greater willingness to complete a...

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