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The Middle Ages Demonstrate Why Women Leaders Make Peace — and War

Hillary Clinton’s victory in Iowa marks the first time a woman has won the presidential caucuses there. Enter the latest round of gender-based speculationsabout female candidates’ inherent pacifism versus their over-compensating hawkishness. With Clinton in the presidential race for the long haul, now is definitely—finally—a good time to throw out the binary competition between passivity and warmongering that always seems to be ascribed to female leaders. There’s no need to cram women—including Clinton—into one-dimensional categories: History demonstrates that women employ multiple and complicated approaches to leadership.

Politically active women thrived in the Middle Ages—as queens, duchesses, countesses, and so on—because the medieval period seated political power within noble families, and women were members of those families. Medieval history may not be the obvious source for an examination of active women rulers—after all, books on the Middle Ages often center on the infighting between kings and their knights, while increasingly misogynistic monks produced diatribes against the wiles of women. Nevertheless, noble wives in the Middle Ages were regarded as co-rulers of territory, alongside their husbands, and were expected to participate in both political and military affairs even when their husbands were...

Perfectionism in the Office Doesn’t Need to be Toxic

Perfectionism would seem to be an ideal quality in an employee: Bosses should love you, clients and customers should ask for you and only you, and co-workers ought to be standing in line waiting to have you join their project.

Plus, students learn from a young age that an A+ is better than an A, and that constant striving ought to make them the star pupil and envy of their fellow students.

But as it turns out, the psychological underpinnings of perfectionism are quite complex. One factor that drives perfectionism is internal insecurity–and a desire to outdo those around you. Is your desire to be perfect a function of wanting to outdo those around you? If so you may fall into this group.

Related to this brand of personal insecurity is the need for constant validation from teachers, bosses and even parents. Perfectionists’ hunger for validation is a double-edged sword.

Once praised, some people develop the need to maintain this level of overachievement in everything they do. Whether it’s an evening meal or a DIY project produced via Pinterest, these kinds of perfectionists can even begin to be immobilized by their desire to be perfect. Living up to...

Why Your Employees Aren’t Performing

I can’t believe we spent a huge amount on customer-service training, and our staff still doesn’t consistently give great service. What a waste!

We sent out a memo explaining the summer dress code. I thought it was pretty clear, but the intern showed up dressed for a night at the club. In addition to having bad fashion sense, she seems to have problems with reading comprehension. 

He does the minimum, and that’s it. Why he doesn’t take more pride in his work and our business, I’ll never know. It’s extremely difficult to have him on my team. The guy’s a real energy drain.

Sound familiar? Probably. At any given moment, there are legions of employees busy “working” but not doing the work their managers expect them to do or, worse yet, doing their work in ways that hurt morale, productivity and the bottom line.

Perhaps a few of those frustrating employees have a professional death wish—but most don’t. In all likelihood, they are as frustrated by their performance as you are. The onus is on you, the manager, to identify and implement the fix.

For starters, you must come to terms...

Government Reorganization 2016: No Magic Wand

The recent history of government reorganization efforts hasn’t been very impressive. President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union offered a fairly mild proposal to reorganize the federal government’s trade functions. Republicans had proposed this idea in the 1990s, but the only bipartisan response it generated was opposition to any large-scale reorganization.

Is there a need to rethink the federal government’s organization and operations? Probably yes, given the reports regularly issued by the Government Accountability Office on program duplication and overlap. An advocacy group, the Government Transformation Initiative, has been promoting bipartisan legislation.

The Senate version of the bill proposes a seven-member bipartisan board, which would produce recommendations within a year, then monitor them and propose more over the six-year lifespan of the board. There would be expedited procedures for congressional consideration of any legislative proposals it offers.

Former Comptroller General David Walker is a strong supporter of this initiative. Steve Goodrich, one of the leaders of this initiative, said in a recent interview that the legislation would change how agencies do business.

However, the bigger question may be timing. Could it pass? Could it get implemented? I did a series of blog posts examining past...

Rethinking Federal Grants Management: From Oversight to Insight

Grants are among the most important tools the federal government uses to accomplish its objectives. At $600 billion, they comprise over 15 percent of annual outlays, forty percent higher than federal contract spending.

Sadly, the way federal grants are managed gets woefully little attention. To achieve higher returns on the taxpayer’s dollar, that needs to change. Both the mindset and the skill sets of federal grant managers need to evolve from primarily thinking about “conducting oversight” to figuring out instead how to generate insights that help grantees and others learn from experience and find new ways to improve performance along multiple dimensions, including outcomes, cost-effectiveness, customer experience (or, for regulated parties, interaction and transaction quality), fairness and unwanted side effects. That is not to suggest that persistently weak grantee performance is acceptable, but rather that attention to improvement should be the priority.

Last month, the Volcker Alliance joined with three other organizations – an evidence-based policy advocate, a policy area expert, and a grantees’ network – to urge changes in the way one federal grant program, Head Start, collects, analyzes, reports, shares, and uses performance and other data grantees submit. These recommendations, grounded in lessons from both the public and private...