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The Most Overlooked Element of Leadership

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As the vice president for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service, I had the opportunity to host a conversation with about 150 federal leaders at Excellence in Government Live on the topic of delivering feedback and coaching employees for success in the federal government.

With the current fiscal year — and many agencies' performance management cycles— coming to a close, the session offered a timely opportunity to share simple, actionable ways to make the process of setting expectations, holding employees accountable and delivering feedback just a little easier. 

More than anything else, the one take-away from these conversations, and one of the most overlooked aspects of leadership, was that leading takes time. Leaders should plan to spend about twice as much time preparing to talk with employees as they actually spend in conversations about expectations, performance, results and professional development goals.

This may be a lofty goal, but you cannot offer employees the meaningful feedback and the coaching they deserve without spending some time reviewing your thoughts, assumptions and any data available to ensure that you to offer your employees everything they deserve.

This process also should include learning about your employees’ long-term professional development goals. You may consider such a conversation a distraction from short-term program goals. However, the best leaders know that supporting employees' long-term aspirations actually helps motivate their performance regarding immediate contributions. You also gain the added benefit of developing a protégé.

Specific strategies and techniques for being an effective leader may be difficult to master, but if you retain a genuine interest in your employees and prepare to have meaningful conversations, the rest is almost guaranteed to take care of itself.

Tom Fox is vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service  

(Image via Kuzma/

Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service where he oversees the Center for Government Leadership (CGL) and the Partnership's growing portfolio around innovation in government. In addition, Tom writes the FedCoach column for The Washington Post three times a week, and he serves as adjunct faculty at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute.

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