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Want to Thrive? 5 Lessons From Zeke About How to Live Well

“Zeke is not doing well.” 

These were the first words my husband spoke to me as he retrieved me after I facilitated a two-day leadership off-site for a client. He grabbed my bags and hurried out of the lobby to the truck, where our 70-pound German Shorthaired Pointer, Zeke, lay in extreme exhaustion. Zeke couldn’t stand. At 14 years and 9 months old, his body appeared to be saying it was time to go.

I drove while Robert lay in back with Zeke. Both of us hoping some miracle might happen upon us during our drive back through the hills of upstate New York toward our home in the Finger Lakes. 

An hour later we pulled into the driveway of our home. It was a glorious day with blue skies and cottony clouds suspended over summer’s green valley. We lifted Zeke out of the truck, determined that he would show us he was OK. He couldn’t stand. It took Robert and me both to steady Zeke. In that moment of knowing we were facing the inevitable and unbearable, Zeke seemed to weigh a thousand pounds—as if to represent the pending grief that was heavier than we ...

Risk Management: Creating Organizational Self-Defense

Why don’t agency top leaders know about significant management problems in their organizations before it is too late?

Scandals seem to be more prevalent these days, ranging from seemingly dishonest reporting of telework hours at the Patent Office or veterans hospital access wait times, to the safety of CDC labs, to lavish conferences at the General Services Administration.

Wouldn’t it have been better if agency leaders had learned about brewing issues before they became problems? Tom Stanton and Doug Webster, in their new book, Managing Risk and Performance, say there are two key challenges to being able to head off problems in advance:

  • First, important information in large agencies often is located at the front line and with middle managers, and bad news tends to not filter upward. So how does trustworthy information flow in an organization, and how do you get the right information to flow to decision-makers without flooding them with unimportant data?
  • And second, sometimes leaders just make bad decisions. Effective leaders need to create an environment for “constructive dialogue,” in which the decision-making process brings important information to the fore before action is taken on a decision.

Given that these two challenges are endemic ...

To Be More Productive at Work, Put a Plant on Your Desk

The quest to design the perfect office space—a working environment that boosts employee well-being and maximizes productivity—is never-ending. Some swap cubicles for open layouts. Others ditch chairs in favor of standing desks. Now, thanks to research showing a link between plants and productivity, offices might be about to get greener.

A new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology asserts that “investing in landscaping the office with plants will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity.” Researchers in the UK and the Netherlands noticed that large commercial workplaces in Europe were becoming increasingly sparse, or “lean,” designed according to the principle that minimalism helps workers focus. In response to what they thought was a misguided trend, the researchers conducted a series of studies over 18 months to show that having plants in offices made working conditions better, based on both objective measures of productivity and subjective measures such as perceived air quality, self-reported concentration, and individual employee satisfaction.

In the studies, offices were made greener with installations of leafy plants that were, on average, 90 centimeters (about 3 feet) tall—with one plant for every square meter of office space. “What ...

​To RIF or Not to RIF

Reduction in force is a term that frightens most federal workers. It means uncertainty, potential loss of a job, disruption, and usually more questions than answers. Politicians (even the ones who want to shrink the federal government) oppose them. So do managers, unions, and most people who write about government issues. Most agencies have been “successful” in recent years in avoiding RIFs. They have used attrition, hiring slowdowns and buyouts to reduce their workforce without resorting to a RIF. Most people will tell you a RIF is something to be avoided at all costs.

During my federal career I developed an early understanding of the RIF process when I faced a reduction in force in my first federal job. I immersed myself in the subject when I had to conduct several RIFs over the next 30 years. The last large scale RIF I conducted abolished 700 occupied jobs in a Navy command of 3,200 employees. With that background, I should join the chorus that says RIFs are always bad and attrition is always better. The problem is that it is just not true. Sometimes the alternatives are worse. In fact, sometimes the alternatives do much more damage and disrupt ...

People With an Inflated View of Themselves Get Others to Believe It, Too

In a meritocracy, talent is supposed to rise to the top. That way, important positions like political and executive offices can be filled by those best-equipped to do the job.

But when it comes to sizing up others’ abilities, a new study says we pay more attention to confidence than competence. People with an inflated view of their own abilities are judged by others to be more capable; conversely, people with low confidence are thought to be less capable.

In the study, which was published Aug. 27 in PLOS ONE, university students predicted their own performance and the performance of their classmates in a small tutorial. Students who ranked themselves higher than their actual results—the overconfident students—were also overrated by their peers. Students who underrated themselves were similarly given lower-than-achieved rankings by their peers. These results were consistent whether the predictions were made at the beginning of the term or at the end, when students had ostensibly become more familiar with one another’s work.

“These findings suggest that people don’t always reward the most accomplished individual but rather the most self-deceived,” said Vivek Nityananda, one of the study authors.

There implications span across the workforce. Overconfident ...