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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

How the Story You Tell Yourself Can Make You Happier

Harnessing happiness has become something of a cultural obsession. Countless studies have linked our happiness to moneyagelocation, and timing of having children, to name just a few.

But there’s arguably an easier way to make your life feel more meaningful: Tell yourself a positive story about your life. That’s the thinking behind a slew of research on happiness, and one motto of positive psychologist Shawn Achor, who researches and lectures about the link between happiness and success.

Achor’s observations draw on his days as a student counselor at Harvard University: “These students, no matter how happy they were with their original success of getting into the school, two weeks later their brains were focused, not on the privilege of being there, nor on their philosophy or their physics. Their brain was focused on the competition, the workload, the hassles, the stresses, the complaints.”

The gap between the opportunities and achievements of these students and their happiness led Achor to this conclusion: Happiness requires “changing the lens” of how you perceive your reality. The change is gradual and requires some disciplined work, he says. One example is a daily exercise in writing down one good thing ...

At Some Point, All Leaders Reach a Constitutional Crossroad

Periodically, executives ask me why the Leadership for a Democratic Society program at the Federal Executive Institute places such emphasis on the U.S. Constitution. They recognize that the Constitution is a foundational document for government service and highlights the country’s core values. Nonetheless, given the program’s short duration and broad curriculum, they question why so much time and attention is given to the subject, so much so that “thinking constitutionally” is one of the program’s three major themes.

My response is simple: “Because your time will come.” I explain that whether their federal service career spans four or 40 years, they will eventually face a “constitutional crossroad.” By that I mean a juncture where they are called upon to make a decision that either validates or violates the U.S. Constitution. At the intersection where personal values and professional obligations cross, they will need to choose the course that is constitutionally correct. Often confronted with dubious looks, reflecting doubt on my intelligence and integrity, I rephrase my response: “because you will face an ‘Ollie North moment.’ ”


A decorated Marine Corps officer, Lt. Col. Oliver “Ollie” North swore to “uphold and defend the Constitution of the ...

What Makes a Good Employer?

How do you feel about your employer? Seems like a simple question, but the answer isn't always clear-cut. Satisfaction with your employer can be a more involved concept, one that includes opinions about company culture and policies, feelings about how an organization treats its employees, and maybe even some thoughts on how the work your company does impacts the community or society.

The most recent Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll asked Americans to consider this multi-faceted question in order toget a sense of how people really view the organizations that employ them. An overwhelming majority of people had mostly positive things to say about their employers. According to the poll, which surveyed 1,000 adults, 87 percent of respondents would consider their company or organization a good place to work, and would recommend it to others. And, 88 percent of people surveyed said that they believed in the mission and purpose of their company.

For example, Jennifer Cornelius, a data analyst at an insurance company in Alabama, says that she thinks of her employer as a good workplace. Why? Well, the fact that she can work from home helps—a lot. “The flexibility is a huge bonus,” says ...

Monty Python’s John Cleese on The Secret of Success

“Carl Jung said that if in the second half of your life you try to develop the things that were undeveloped in the first half, you get much more out of life than if you go on doing the same things,” John Cleese, the icon of British comedy group Monty Python and author of a new memoir, tells me as we sit down to coffee in his midtown hotel recently.

“I read the Jung remark before I was 35, and I thought, ‘That’s right!’ It’s the law of diminishing returns: The more that you do of the same thing—if you’re doing the same things at 70 that you did at 40—then you may have missed the point. I think that there are some people who love what they’re doing so much that they just go on doing it forever, and that’s fine. But I think for many of us it’s important to try new things. Of course, we’re loathe to do so, because when you try something new, you’re not very good at it, and you feel a bit embarrassed. But that’s okay! Looking at paintings and looking at ...

Management and the Art of Future Thinking

“Leaders aren’t born.  Just like anything else, they are made through hard work. That is the price we must pay to achieve our goals.”—Vince Lombardi

Warren Bennis, who died in July at age 89, pioneered leadership as a business discipline. He said managers seek to do things right, while leaders focus on doing the right things. Managers guide organizations to reach goals, while leaders choose goals. Managers focus on the bottom line, while leaders look to the future to ensure the organization thrives in times of change. Bennis held that leaders are made, not born, since leadership is a skill that must be learned. Further, the elements of good leadership evolve over time. In today’s workplace, you can’t bark like a drill sergeant and expect people to jump. You must mentor and coach. Authoritative leadership risks alienating people and squandering an organization’s most precious resource: its collective knowledge. Why hire top-flight knowledge workers unless you let them use their knowledge creatively?

Manager or Leader? 

Leaders and managers operate with different priorities. As I review my career, I see that I lean toward management. Which way do you lean? As a manager, I make things run ...