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

Trump at Six Months

If there’s any lesson from Donald Trump’s first six months as president, it’s that any prediction is wildly risky. New York Yankee great Yogi Berra must have had this moment in mind when he said, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

But let’s give it a stab. Here are six lessons we might glean as we mark the 1/8th point of the Trump presidency.

1. Political conversation has been indelibly coarsened. We’ve been teetering on the edge of greater incivility for a long time, but the administration’s sharp elbows will make it very hard to go back. Of course, it’s easy to pine for days that never existed. Fortunately, it would be hard to top the street brawls surrounding the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. But we’ve clearly crossed a line in the last months, in which ad hominem attacks are more common, more nasty, and more pointed. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll easily get back to the civil side of the line, even if future candidates promise they’ll do so, as they surely will.

2. Future presidents won’t rely on...

Most People Feel Guilty About Taking Breaks—But Science Shows Rest Is Just As Vital As Hard Work

It’s important to know how to put your head down and work hard. In an increasingly globalized economy—in which we are competing not just with each other, but also with human-replacing technologies—those who embody grit and grind will have an undeniable edge.

But that’s only half the battle. If we ceaselessly push ourselves without ever taking breaks, the quality of our work will suffer in the short term. And in the long term, we’ll be liable to burnout. For hard work to become valuable and sustainable, it must be followed by rest and recovery.

There is no shortage of products that promise to help us “hack” our way to sustainable peak performance. Unfortunately, every quick fix that I’ve ever evaluated has one thing in common: they all fade quickly. The vast majority of scientific evidence suggests that the best way to grow a capability—whether it’s learning an instrument, running a marathon, or improving at public speaking—is to give yourself an intense challenge, follow it up with a period of rest and recovery, and then rinse and repeat, only this time, starting with a slightly more demanding challenge. As I explain in...

Donald Trump and the Danger of Management 'Adhocracy'

“His favorite technique was to keep grants of authority incomplete, jurisdictions uncertain, charters overlapping. The result of this competitive theory of administration was often confusion and exasperation on the operating level.”

You could be forgiven for assuming this comment referred to Donald Trump, the 45th occupant of the Oval Office. But you would be wrong. It was rendered by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. about none other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States.

I am not suggesting that Donald Trump ought to be mentioned in the same breath as someone who rightfully appears on every short list of the greatest presidents in American history. But the two share a penchant for a decision-making and governing style that can best be described as adhocracy, which favors the unstructured and at times downright chaotic.

Adhocracy offers a sharp contrast to more formal styles of decision-making, in which participants with a legitimate stake in the outcome are included and others excluded; options are rigorously weighed in memos and then discussed at carefully run meetings; and those meetings in turn lead to decisions followed by clear assignments, closely monitored execution, and periodic review. Ideally, assumptions are challenged and resource considerations taken...

The Urgent Case for Reforming the Civil Service

Our government is beset by problems. Not all of them are “people problems,” but none can be fixed without reforming the government’s network of human capital—the federal civil service system.

For example, we can’t provide the quality health care that our veterans deserve without figuring out how to hire more doctors. We can’t secure the border without fully staffing agencies that are already short-handed. With a massive backlog of disability claims, we can’t pay disabled Americans what we owe them—and prevent overpayments—without hiring additional skilled workers needed by the Social Security Administration. The list goes on.

The United States is currently engaged in a fundamental debate about what it wants government to do. There is a long list of government programs that command broad public support, but in far too many of them, government can’t deliver what citizens expect because it doesn’t have the workers with the right skills in the right places.

Almost everyone agrees that the system is broken. Straining under conflicting pressures, the government’s system of human workers is breaking down and getting in the way of doing the people’s work. It is hindering the government...

James Comey is Now Writing a Book About Ethical Leadership

After three and a half years at the top of the US’s law enforcement food chain, James Comey has a few stories to tell.

The former head of the FBI is writing a book, reports the New York Times (paywall). But it won’t be filled with dirty laundry; instead, Comey is writing about the decision making and leadership principles that have guided him throughout his career—up through his last job, working for, and being fired by, US president Donald Trump.

“It’s a book about leadership and [Comey’s] search for truth, informed by lessons and experiences he’s had throughout his career,” Matt Latimer, one of Comey’s literary agents, told the Times. “It will speak to a broader desire in our country for more ethical leadership.” Major publishers will start bidding for the book this week, says the Times.

Comey became FBI director in 2013, and in the last year he’s been at the center of two highly public intelligence scandals. One was around presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and emails she refused to make public, and one is still ongoing, around suspected collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

Earlier this year...