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A Guide For Federal Leaders In a Time of Uncertainty

  • By John R. Malgeri , Deb Cohen and Robert Jordan
  • 5:17 PM ET
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Uncertainty can breed mistrust, suspicion, anxiety and a host of other negative emotions, all of which can make it very difficult to focus on work. But supervisors and managers don’t have the luxury of indulging in their worst fears—they serve a critical role in maintaining and building a productive work environment where employees stay focused on the mission.

While federal managers may not be able to alleviate employees’ concerns or forecast what future years will bring, they still can serve as effective and trusted leaders. Here are some tips for navigating stressful times:    

1. Heighten your sense of empathy. Robert Greenleaf’s influential work on servant-leadership expressed in the Essentials of Servant Leadership recognizes empathy as a fundamental attribute of effective leadership. As a leader, you need to recognize that your employees have myriad concerns, including their future employment, bills, tuition, child care, and elder care, all of which affects their attention and energy at work. Your focus cannot be solving their personal problems, but you can ease their unwarranted fears and help them address their work more effectively. By recognizing their perspectives, you will build their trust in you and enhance your own self-efficacy as a leader...

Leadership Matters, But Government Has a Deeper Problem

In recent weeks, Government Executive has published a sampling of chapters from the book Building a 21st Century Senior Executive Service, published by the National Academy of Public Administration. We hope that in so doing, policymakers and legislators may realize there is a crisis at hand.

That crisis is quiet. There are no blaring headlines signaling it. The federal government continues to function at a high level despite all the turmoil and turbulence at home and abroad, and that’s a testimony to the unsung professionalism of the career SES corps and the civil servants they lead. Indeed, one could argue that the last several months, our civil servants have provided an historic example of their true value to the nation.  

Nevertheless, the challenges that beset the SES, so well-documented in the book, are real enough, and it is our contention that if they are ignored, the American people will no longer be able to take the excellence of that career executive corps—and hence the excellence of the people that they lead—for granted.

An Administratively Achievable Agenda

Building a 21st Century SES offers a practical—and most importantly, achievable—set of recommendations. Taken together, they represent...

Joe Biden Says We Have to Be Willing to Risk Failure to Enjoy Doing What Really Matters to Us

Risk is the key to a good life. That was former US vice-president Joe Biden’s message to graduates today during his commencement address at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.

The 74-year-old, who said he’s worked with eight presidents and hundreds of senators during his time in US politics, said the happiest and most successful among them managed to balance their personal lives with their careers, and find fulfillment in what they do. That, he said, takes risk.

There’s an incredible pressure on all of you to succeed… But you’ve got to resist the temptation of what others view as the right choice for you. Follow what you feel in your gut. That’s your North Star, trust it. To be successful and happy you have to be willing to run the risk of failure in the service of what matters to you, no matter what anyone else thinks.

During his years in politics, Biden said he travelled more than 8,300 roundtrips, and roughly 250 miles a day from Washington DC to his home in Delaware, to be see his family each night and be there when they woke up in the morning. It may...

Decoding Federal Employee Compensation

Congressman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., took a step forward in leading the hearing on federal employee compensation last week. He asked for the facts. Presumably he meant facts that both sides of this ongoing debate can agree on. The absence of readily understood, verifiable data has perpetuated this contentious debate now for over two decades.

He also said that civil service reform is coming. That undoubtedly means transitioning to pay for performance, although that will require agencies to solve what has been the weakest link in workforce management—employee performance management. Pay for performance will not be accepted if the basis for pay increases—performance ratings—are not seen as valid. Congressman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, clearly enjoyed ridiculing all the A+’s, A’s and A-’s along with the incredibly low percentage of employees who are terminated.  

His sarcasm is justified. Last year in the Washington area, a highly respected survey conducted by the Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area shows that the typical employer rated only 19 percent of employees at the highest level, and 3 percent at the lowest level. (The 2016 survey had 228 participating employers from every sector encompassing over 300,000 employees...

You Can’t Solve These Problems on an Ad Hoc Basis

Resolving today’s most pressing cyber security and Internet governance challenges is dependent on the tech industry and the government working together on both policy development and policy implementation. Specifically, collaboration is required to successfully research, design, debate, and ultimately implement effective solutions. While there is overwhelming consensus on the need for collaboration, it remains a huge challenge. Why? While many factors contribute to the problem, including differing incentive structures, cultures and business models, one critical element—organizational structure—is a significant and often overlooked hurdle that needs attention and creative solutions.

Specifically, public policy consensus building and collaborative policy implementation require a resilient process through which advocates of differing perspectives have the authority to discuss and negotiate on their organization’s behalf. Additionally, these actors must be empowered to make commitments on behalf of their organizations and have access to, and buy-in from, those who will lead implementation. This construct has proven particularly challenging in the context of government and technology companies because organizationally neither side is organized to facilitate this process. Most collaborations today are done by ad hoc teams of operational personnel, lawyers, government affairs departments, and/or trade associations or other outside third parties. This setup...

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