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

Managers Can Learn a Lot About Humility From Chris Christie’s Private Beach Photos

Someone forgot to tell former Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie that leadership is no day at the beach.

Managers, in the public and private sectors, frequently have to make tough, unpopular decisions. In such instances, the best approach is to lead by example. Workers—or constituents—are more likely to understand your decision if the consequences affect you too. You can earn loyalty from transparency.

Say, for example, you are a governor in the US and you shut down your state government because a spat with the leader of your state legislature means you can’t agree on a budget plan. As Americans elsewhere gear up to enjoy the July 4th holiday, your state’s operations screech to a halt. Essential services such as those performed by public-safety agencies remain available. But visitors to state-operated beaches and parks will be turned away.

Sharp politicians know that empathizing with those affected would help. Indeed, this is precisely what Christie, New Jersey’s outgoing governor and a 2016 GOP hopeful, did when he found himself in...

Beware the Agency Leadership Void

Whatever else transpires, many government workers will remember 2017 as the year of the empty office. Almost six months along, the Trump administration’s appointments strategy is a slow moving disaster. The administration has not even nominated candidates to fill three-quarters of top Senate-confirmed agency appointee positions, according to the the Political Appointee Tracker developed by the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post.

Across federal agencies, anecdotes abound of quiet hallways and pervasive uncertainty. A palpable emptiness fills the southwest corner of the Main Treasury Building’s third floor, where empty offices of the department’s 27 vacant appointee positions await occupants. Secretary Steven Mnuchin remains the only confirmed Treasury Department appointee. Cabinet secretaries are the only confirmed appointees in the departments of Agriculture (12 vacant positions), Commerce (20), Education (14), Energy (21), Housing and Urban Development (11), Interior (16), Labor (13), and Veterans Affairs (10). Even agencies critical to the Trump administration’s security agenda are coping with a gaping leadership void. At the Defense Department, 47 of 53 positions are vacant. At Homeland Security, 10 out of 13 appointee positions remain vacant.

Is Senate obstruction to blame? By all accounts, a spirit of obstructionism permeates the...

When Men Hold Top Positions, How Much Can Mentorship Help Women?

In the field of national security, there’s a clear deficit of gender diversity: Just 34 percent of senior-level career positions—which account for many of the top jobs at the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security—are held by women. The underrepresentation of women in national security isn’t just a problem in terms of optics—it’s been argued that a lack of diversity also skews policy, which matters greatly given the real human cost that can come with the decisions national-security professionals make every day.

 Radha Iyengar is a national-security expert who is currently a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, a policy-analysis think tank, and is a co-host of a national-security podcast called Bombshell. Previously, she held positions at the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. Her career has involved working on everything from evaluating stabilization operations in Afghanistan to preventing and responding to sexual assault in the U.S. military. Iyengar says that her mentors, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict Michael Sheehan and former Deputy Secretary at the Department of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, have helped to guide her career.

For The Atlantic’s...

Why Is the Onus on Women to Curb Workplace Interruptions?

The recent spectacle of Senator Kamala Harris’s male colleagues repeatedly cutting her off at Senate Intelligence Committee hearings is the latest reminder of what several studies dating back to at least 1975 have shown, and what female professionals have been saying for decades: All too often, women at work can’t finish a sentence without being interrupted, usually by a man.

Part of the problem with the usual advice for curbing these interruptions is that it puts the onus on women to do something differently. They are frequently encouraged to speak up—even though this is what they are so often prevented from doing in the first place and even though some men seem to view any amount of speech from a woman as annoying and superfluous. (The latest prominent example was David Bonderman, the former Uber board member who resigned after saying as much at a board meeting in response to a comment about gender diversity.)

“We have to be very careful about ‘fix the woman’ type of thinking,” says Judith Williams, a diversity consultant and the former head of unconscious-bias training at Google. She famously put her own job on the line—and raised awareness of this...

Good Managers Give Constructive Criticism — But Truly Masterful Leaders Offer Constructive Praise

Getting feedback from your coworkers is scary. A leader at one of my previous jobs once said that my emotional stability fell somewhere between that of a squalling infant and pubescent teen. (Cool, cool.) Now research shows that not only are most managers bad at giving constructive criticism—they’re even less likely to give constructive praise.

In two surveys conducted by leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman, each of nearly 8,000 managers, 44% of managers reported that they found it stressful and difficult to give negative feedback. One-fifth avoid the practice entirely. Even more surprisingly, nearly 40% of leaders conceded to never giving positive reinforcement, either.

That’s a big problem—both for employees and for their boss’s ability to manage them effectively. The study found that a boss’s willingness to give positive feedback was the strongest predictor of whether their direct reports perceive them to be effective, honest communicators. (Managers’ comfort giving negative feedback barely influenced this perception.) Ironically, managers who report regularly giving negative feedback were most likely to believe they gave “honest, straightforward feedback,” regardless of whether they also used positive reinforcement.

Most leaders “vastly underestimate the power and necessity of positive reinforcement,” Jack...