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

Adam Grant Recommends The Best Holiday Gift Managers Can Give Employees

It’s December, which means a dreaded decision awaits many of us: what kind of gift, if any, to give managers, employees, or colleagues.

From mixed messages to unwanted chotskies, the potential for gift failure is high. Still worse is receiving a present from your coworker, and having nothing to offer in return.

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant, the bestselling author and Wharton professor, says there’s one gift that’s a guaranteed success for managers and reports alike. It’s essentially an act of gratitude, the suggestion for which stems from an exercise Grant first encountered while working on his doctorate at the University of Michigan.

“In the fall of 2003, I started grad school. One of the more daunting assignments was to contact 15-20 friends, family, and colleagues who knew me well, and ask them to share a story about a time when I was at my best,” he writes in the December 2016 edition of Granted, his monthly newsletter. “My task was to create a portrait of my strengths based on the patterns. It was a powerful learning experience, but it felt unbalanced—what about my weaknesses? I started asking people to share times when I was at...

The Cost of Trump's Attacks on the FBI

In July, I had dinner with a friend who has worked as a lawyer in the Justice Department for decades. My friend bemoaned the recent tweets by the president of the United States that called into question the integrity of the Justice Department. Why isn’t Attorney General Jeff Sessions “looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?,” asked President Trump in one such (ungrammatical) tweet. And why didn’t Sessions “replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation?”

My friend was desolate because the president was baselessly questioning the integrity of senior leaders in the Justice Department—of the attorney general whom he appointed, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation whom he fired, and the acting FBI director who had served in the Bureau for decades. Such charges would have been disheartening if uttered in public by any official. But they were unfathomably worse coming from the chief executive on whose behalf my friend and tens of thousands of Justice Department employees worked hard to ensure faithful execution of the law, as the Constitution requires.

I thought about my friend this weekend when Trump launched his latest tweet-complaints about...

Can Withering Public Trust In Government Be Traced Back To the JFK Assassination?

The recent release of the JFK files led to a surge of media coverage about the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath.

But it’s not like public interest has ever really abated. On any day of the week, visit Dealey Plaza, the downtown Dallas site of the assassination. You’ll see curious tourists, sleuths trying to figure out what really happened and others who don’t agree about how it happened.

In some ways, it’s still Nov. 22, 1963.

In the days after the tragedy, the public was at a loss over how to interpret the events. People distrusted the government’s explanation – a suspicion that continues to this day.

Even so, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any lessons to be learned from the assassination.

Perhaps it’s time for a different conversation about the Kennedy assassination – not one about who pulled the trigger, but about the lasting legacy of an unresolved event, and how it’s influenced what Americans do (and don’t) believe in today.

A cottage industry of conspiracies

On Oct. 28, President Trump tweeted that he was going to release all the remaining JFK files in order to “put any and all conspiracies...

To Calm Your Emotions, Get 15 Minutes Alone

Being by yourself—even for just 15 minutes—may decrease your strong positive and negative emotions, and instead reduce stress and induce calm, a new study suggests.

Lead researcher Thuy-vy Nguyen, a doctoral candidate in clinical and social sciences in psychology at the University of Rochester, together with the cofounders of self-determination theory, psychology professors Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, conclude that solitude can lead to relaxation and stress reduction—as long as people actively chose to be alone.

In general, solitude, the research finds, has a lessening effect not only on arousing positive emotions but also strong negative emotions, ultimately leaving people calmer, more relaxed, less angry, and less anxious.

Previously, the researchers note, alone time has been correlated with social rejection, withdrawal and isolation, shyness, and loneliness. Not so fast, the researchers say.

“Solitude can be valuable and useful at times, particularly when we want to switch off for a few moments,” says Nguyen.

Let solitude ‘speak for itself’

It’s not a simple matter of good or bad when it comes to the emotional effect of solitude, the researchers write. Instead, they observed that solitude changes the “intensity of our inner experience, both positive and negative.” Alone...

Arrogance Can Be an Underrated Quality In a Boss

A natural self-assuredness and eagerness to brag made Michael Scott, the awkward manager played by Steve Carrell in the hit 2000s comedy The Office, a deliciously ridiculous character.

You could argue, however, that his bossly flourishes and grandiose speeches were not so different from those of celebrated CEOs, like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg. So why is he seen as a joke rather than effective?

The difference, of course, is context. When you lead a tiny team in a branch office, not a global powerhouse, your employees experience you differently.

In a recent study, Gijs van Houwelingen, a lecturer of management at Leiden University in the Netherlands, looked at how employees’ social relationship with their boss influenced the way they responded to different types of motivational messages. Aspirational languagewas motivating when people also felt psychologically distant from their leader, he found. When a manager was perceived as “close,” it was just the opposite: Their teams weren’t motivated by lofty speeches, and were more inspired by messages that featured concrete goals.

Now, a new study offers a similar finding: A leader...