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Don’t Wait to Be Asked: Lead

Ask people what they would change about their organizations, and you are likely to get an earful. The company website is clunky; it’s past time to rethink that tired growth strategy; and why oh why does the sales team continue to neglect potential customers in South America?

Someone should really do something. But who?

“There’s some magical group of people called ‘those guys,’ who are men and women we have to wait for,” says Harry Kraemer, a clinical professor of strategy at the Kellogg School. But the better path, he says, is to lose the shroud of magic around this group and simply become part of it. “The people who are really the leaders—the real, true leaders—are the people who literally say, ‘Well wait a minute. I am one of ‘those guys.’”

He offers the following roadmap to future leaders looking to change their organizations right now.

1. Lead from where you are. If you work for an organization, no matter your role, you already have all the clout you need to begin leading, Kraemer says.

“When I bring up this topic, very often younger people will say, ‘I really want to be a leader, but...

Take 5: How Power Dynamics Shape Our Behavior

Power—or the lack of it—impacts everything from snack choices to economic growth.

Power can be intoxicating or sit heavily on one’s shoulders. But it is without doubt a significant force in society, at work, and in government. Which makes it a ripe topic for study.

Several Kellogg professors have studied how power shapes everything from snack choices to economic growth. Below is a summary of some of their findings.

1. Supersize Me?

Almost no one likes to feel powerless. So when we do, consciously or unconsciously, we engage in efforts to restore our sense of power.

One way we do so is by acquiring status-related objects, such as a luxury watch or sports car—or even, based on research from marketing professor Derek Rucker, a big slice of pizza.

In one experiment, he and coauthors found that participants rated a person as higher status when they chose a larger-sized piece of pizza, smoothie, or coffee compared to when they had a smaller version of the same treat.

And this belief about size and power impacted people’s actual food choices. In another experiment, participants who were made to feel temporarily powerless chose larger pieces of bagels than...

When It Comes To Making Good Decisions, Bad Options Can Help

Think of the worst idea ever for a new business venture, one that is guaranteed to fail. Or try to imagine a truly terrible, good-for-nobody new government policy. Or even, as a class of grade school kids I know recently did, the worst idea for a birthday party. (For the record, some of those terrible party ideas included holding the event in a sewer, a joint birthday party/funeral, and, worst of all, a party with no cake.)

My guess is that this exercise, which I often run with my students and clients, was easier for you than it would have been had I asked you to come up with a great idea instead.

Many of us are in search of the elusive good idea – that brilliant stroke of insight that can create value, kick-start a career, and even change the world. The thing is, good ideas can be awfully hard to come by. They are difficult to produce on demand and challenging to recognize on sight. Bad ideas, by contrast, seem to be in endless supply.

Using this bad-ideas exercise and others like it, I teach that instead of only obsessing about good ideas, we can also learn to...

The Government’s Big Real Estate Opportunity

Last year, the U.S. General Services Administration selected the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to redevelop the Volpe Transportation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The development community had shown significant interest in the Volpe site, a sprawling campus of aging Federal buildings and abundant surface parking on 14 acres in the heart of Kendall Square. Recognizing how its low-density occupancy fell far short of highest and best use of this site, the government capitalized on its development potential by exchanging 11 acres to the highest bidder and consolidating its future occupancy on the three acres that will remain under federal control. With a deal that will ultimately yield $750 million in value, the Volpe example illustrates how the federal government can manage its real property portfolio with an eye towards unlocking its potential value. It also demonstrates the benefits of bringing the private market perspective to inform the federal portfolio management strategy.

Historically, the creative thinking reflected with the Volpe example seems to be the exception to the rule.  There has been a general reluctance to shed vacant and underutilized federal properties for a variety of reasons—speculation about a future potential need, optimism about future funding to modernize these buildings...

It’s Time to Erase ‘Seniority’ From the Management Lexicon

If there is one word that has outlived its usefulness in government management, it’s the word ‘seniority.’  Somehow it sends the message that performance is not important. In the administration of the General Schedule, seniority is the basis for step increases and plays a far too important role in promotions from GS-7 to GS-11. It’s also important, along with technical skills, in other promotions. When layoffs happen, civil service rules emphasize seniority and veteran’s status.

The new exception is a provision in the 2016 Defense authorization bill that makes performance the primary factor in Defense Department layoffs. That highlights another issue—the need for defensible performance ratings to support layoff decisions.

Employees approaching the end of their careers—or the date when they are eligible to retire—seem at times to be obsessed with tracking the days, weeks and months until they can quit. Well in advance of retirement their job focus begins to decline. No other sector pays as much attention to retirement. That has to change to enable agencies to minimize the loss of proven talent.  

I’m all for respecting one’s elders—I am one myself—but seniority concerns have considerably more influence...