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

Four Steps To Leading Like Angela Merkel, Master Of Crisis Management

Where would Europe be without Angela Merkel? The staid force in global politics, who’s headed up Germany for twelve years, has earned the nickname mutti (“mommy” in German) and won countless accoladesfor her political savvy. But her particular brand of leadership remains elusive.

On the eve of Germany’s national election, which she’s widely expected to win, the burning question is how leaders can emulate her success. As Deutsche Welle aptly put it, for the last decade it’s been “Merkel here, Merkel there, Merkel everywhere.” The German chancellor has faced a barrage of crises, often all at once. And yet she’s always managed to come out on top. Whether it’s the never-ending euro zone crisisRussia’s aggression in Ukraine, Germany’s energy crisis, the refugee crisis, or Brexit, she’s stood confidently at the center of it all as “Europe’s crisis manager.”

Her leadership prowess—a curious combination of flexibility, patience, understatement, and cunning—isn’t just enviable in political circles. It can serve as a template for managing crises in any field.

Bide your time

During a crisis, hasty reactions are hard to avoid. But Merkel “turns procrastination into an art...

Beware The Perils Of Groupthink, Yet Meetings Can Still Be Useful

Everyone has had bad experiences in meetings at work.

Perhaps you’ve been subjected to weekly or even daily “feed-forward” briefings in which someone one pay-grade higher insists on reviewing information that everyone could much more efficiently receive in another form.

Or there is the “clueless session,” in which someone who is supposed to solve a problem on his or her own, but hasn’t, calls a meeting instead. The aim is usually to get someone else to think up an easy solution or, absent a good solution, to dodge the responsibility for not solving the problem in the first place by attributing it to “the group.”

Behavioral scientists have seized on this “meeting malaise” and captured attention by bashing these office gatherings and face-to-face teamwork in general. But not all meetings are pointless – and face-to-face dealings are indeed essential for certain types of decision making.

Research I conducted with Cass Sunstein showed that leaders play a pivotal role in determining whether meetings lead to solutions or are hijacked by the tendency for “groupthink.” We’ve highlighted several techniques managers can follow to bring out the best in their groups.

How meetings got a bad rap

The late research psychologist...

The Silent Killer of Workplace Happiness, Productivity, and Health is a Lack of Basic Civility

More than ever before, people are feeling disrespected at work. Employees, like some at Uber, feel they’re working in a toxic culture with insensitive managers. Others complain about being treated disrespectfully based on gender, race, or religion. Some employees receive rude, stinging emails like those emails from The Walking Dead’s Frank Darabont.

What are the costs of employees feeling disrespected? Over the past 20 years, I have researched this question. I’ve polled tens of thousands of workers worldwide about how they’re treated at work. Nearly half of those surveyed in 1998 reported they were treated rudely at least once a month, which rose to 55% in 2011 and 62% in 2016. Though the toll is sometimes hidden, the costs of incivility are tremendous.

Of the nearly 800 managers and employees across 17 industries Christine Pearson of the Thunderbird School of Global Management and I polled, those who didn’t feel respected performed worse. Forty-seven percent of those who were treated poorly intentionally decreased the time spent at work, and 38% said they deliberately decreased the quality of their work. Sixty-six percent reported their performance declined and 78% said their commitment to the organization had declined.


No, the Government Doesn't Have a Problem With Murderers Getting Security Clearances

As someone who has been writing broadly about the defense industry, and specifically about hiring practices for individuals with security clearances, there’s a recurring theme to the challenges—the government struggles to attract and retain individuals in national security careers.

Congressional panels have convened to analyze the issue. Legislation has been proposed. Policies have been changed to address things from pay to telework. But a recent comment by the Director of the Defense Security Service highlights an issue that may be more salient to the government’s hiring issues—employees are sick of being kicked in the pants by their leadership. Publications, including Government Executive, reported the comments last week:

“I’ve got murderers who have access to classified information. I have rapists. I have pedophiles. I have people involved in child porn,” said Defense Security Service Director Daniel Payne, speaking before an audience at this week’s Intelligence and National Security Alliance symposium. “This is the risk we are taking.”

If you’re struggling to attract individuals into the workforce, this probably isn’t going to help. It’s also misleading.

Look at the Policy

Payne’s comment was made in the course of a discussion about the...

The Dark Side of Networking

In 2012, Katherine Milkman, a professor at Wharton who studies judgment and decision-making, co-authored a study that sought to determine the role of race and gender in professional advancement. In order to do that, Milkman and her colleagues used 20 names that might be associated with a particular race or gender and assigned them to fictional prospective doctoral students. The researchers used those names to send identical emails to more than 6,000 professors asking to discuss their research and doctoral programs. The responses varied significantly based on the presumed race of the fictional candidate, and the study helped spark a public conversation about discrimination in academia. 

Since then Milkman has continued to study the ways people make decisions, and how those processes can be altered to promote equality. Her work has also prioritized exploring the kinds of biased decision-making that leads to the underrepresentation of people of color and women that plagues many professional fields.  

I spoke to Milkman for The Atlantic’s series on mentorship, “On The Shoulders Of Giants,” about her research, and the counterintuitive ways that everyday networking can harm women and minorities. The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity.