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A Blueprint for SES Reform

This is the final installment of Government Executive’s series of excerpts from the National Academy of Public Administration’s new book, Building a 21st Century SES: Ensuring Leadership Excellence for Our Federal Government. It was my great privilege to edit (and contribute to) that book, which includes 23 recommendations for reforming the federal government’s senior career executive system. As noted in the anthology, these recommendations are mine and mine alone, not because I have any pride of authorship, but rather because I am not so presumptuous as to assume that any of my contributors agree with them. If they do, so much the better, but I will leave that for them to say. In any event, I take full responsibility for their content.

In that regard, it is only fitting that we end this series where we began, with our original premise: That 21st century government, with all of its challenges, will require a career senior executive corps like no other before it, one whose members are capable of leading across the whole of government if they are to effectively address those challenges. Even those career executives who have a singular agency focus (and there will...

The Counter-Intuitive Nature of Slowing Down to Speed Up

We all know productivity is important. It fuels growth and bottom line results. So when you push people to move faster, shorten deadlines, and bring in new, more efficient technology, productivity will increase, right?

Perhaps.

There are some things that you might have neglected in your quest to be more productive. The biggest one is people and whether they are inspired, motivated and engaged. All of these are impacted for better or worse by you, their leader.

I know it doesn’t seem possible, but when you slow down (bringing your team with you), magically, things speed up. Productivity will increase, deadlines get met (sometimes early) and that new technology you brought in actually gets put to good use.

Take a moment to consider how much more productive you can be when you slow down and take the time to:

Think. You now spend your days reacting to problems and enjoying the rush that this gives you. Spending time alone in thought is something you might be avoiding because it doesn’t seem productive. I would suggest that you spend time with yourself to consider your current impact and your intentions to get better at your leadership and to envision...

Three Simple Techniques to Help You Stop Stressing So Much Over Email

When I’m doing email triage, I often feel as if I’ve fallen into a trance. Every so often, I’ll look up from the screen and think, Whoa—was I even breathing just now?

It turns out that I have email apnea—a term coined by former tech executive Linda Stone that refers to the habit of interrupted breathing while checking email. In observing others informally, Stone noticed that a lot of people unintentionally hold their breath or breathe shallowly when starring at a screen.

If that’s not a good indication of contemporary society’s unhealthy relationship with email, I don’t know what is. But there are steps we can all take to reduce our body’s stressed-out reactions to a full inbox.

The psychology of inbox stress

The theory of operant conditioning describes how our behavior is shaped by rewards and punishments. If I’m a lab rat, and every time I press a button in my cage I receive an electric shock, guess what? I’ll learn to stop pressing that button. Likewise, if I get a treat when I press the button, I’m more likely to do it again and again.

One...

Five Ways to Nurture Your Work Relationships

When romance is in the air, by all means, treat your date to a lovely night on the town. But don’t forget that your relationships with colleagues need to be nurtured as well.

Here are five pieces of advice from Kellogg School faculty members on improving your negotiation skills and managing conflict at work.

1. Don’t Let Culture Get in the Way

One thing to ask yourself when you are faced with conflict at work is whether the issue is actually cultural, says Jeanne Brett, a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg.

Everything from differences in how decisions are made to what “yes” means can come into play. Being able to take what may seem like a problem-employee issue and reframe it as cultural can be powerful.

“I see that it’s not just you trying to be difficult,” Brett says of the change in perspective. “It’s rather you acting as you normally would, given your culture. So if you can label it as ‘cultural,’ then you can begin to say, ‘Okay, now I understand where they’re coming from, let’s see how I can deal with it.’”

Brett’s advice is to try to...

The Transformative Power of Doing Absolutely Nothing

On a recent Sunday, I found myself overwhelmed. It was my last free day between several consecutive weekends of travel, visitors, and weddings. The morning had ticked away, and my boyfriend and I had groceries to buy, paperwork to file, a house to tidy, and something to do at Home Depot. As I contemplated how to productively use the afternoon, my chest tightened. I stepped outside for a gulp of fresh air. There, an idea struck.

“Let’s go to the beach for two hours,” I said. “Then we can do our stuff.”

I was still feeling stressed while I packed my bag, and even while we sought out a spot on the sand. But eventually—maybe when I spotted some dolphins past the breakers, or dunked into a cold, oncoming wave—the stress dissipated. I didn’t do much reading at the beach, or really much of anything. I mostly stared at the water, got wet, laid on a warm blanket, then moved to a chair. After two hours, we folded up our blanket, drove home, and divided and conquered our tasks for the rest of the afternoon. And you know what? They weren’t so painful. It was...

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