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

What Kind of Leader Are You?

There are three types of leaders. Each is successful in a different context, says Michael Maccoby, a renowned business adviser who is an organizational psychologist and anthropologist. And you need all three on your organization’s top management team.

Drawing on nearly five decades of research and experience in both government and the private sector, Maccoby has developed several key insights on the aspects of leadership needed to transform knowledge-service bureaucracies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, into collaborative learning organizations.

What Is Leadership?

Maccoby says leadership is a relationship between the leader and the led, and that it is always exercised in a context: “In one context, someone may be a leader and not so in another context.” He also observes that leadership -- unlike management -- cannot be delegated. “If people follow you because they want to follow you, you cannot hand that relationship over to someone else.”

He says that the three inherent qualities of a leader are: (1) to have a purpose, (2) to have a passion for this purpose, and (3) to have courage. Examples in government today include John Koskinen, who is leading the turnaround of the Internal Revenue Service, and Penny Pritzker, who leads the...

Time Management Is Only Making Our Already Busy Lives Worse

“Tess…started her way up the dark and crooked lane not made for hasty progress; a street laid out before inches of land had value, and when one-handed clocks sufficiently sub-divided the day.” —Thomas Hardy

Imagine your life without time, without a constant sense that you’re running behind, frustrated that yet again you are losing the battle against the irresistible force of the ticking clock. Imagine not wishing there were more hours in the day.

We haven’t always been obsessed with time. In fact, as the historian E.P. Thompson highlighted half a century ago, before the Industrial Revolution clocks were largely irrelevant. Instead of a time orientation, people had a task orientation. They had jobs to do, and so they did them in the natural order, at the natural time. This worked for a largely agricultural society. However, the factories of the Industrial Revolution needed to coordinate hundreds of people to get them working at the same time, in synchronicity—and that required clocks. So business leaders imposed clock time on their workforce (not without resistance), and eminent leaders, such as Benjamin Franklin, reinforced the value of this with statements like “time is money.”

Cast the clock...

Only Superheroes Need Apply

I was talking with a friend over the weekend about her anniversary plans. "You doing anything nice?"

Really I was just making conversation. What with jobs, kids and errands, not to mention watching the money, most couples don't do the splurge.

"No, not really," she said, as expected. 

My friend has younger kids and we're heading into the empty-nester phase. I remembered how very badly I had wanted help as a young mother. It was hard to be responsible all the time. I longed to go out with him to the movies, just the two of us. But there was nobody we trusted to watch the kids, and even if we had, the cost of dinner and a movie and a babysitter was a barrier.

"Let me take the kids for a few hours," I impulsively offered, as I had no idea what I would do with her kids. "I'm not doing anything tomorrow."

Just then, one of her kids ran up to her. "Mommy, Mommy, look at this!" He had a storybook in his hands with "Minions" characters all over it. Then he started talking, blah, blah, blah. It wasn't very interesting to me, but...

The Women Who Rule Pluto

For all the firsts coming out of the New Horizons mission—color footage of Pluto, photos of all five of its moons, and flowing datastreams about Pluto’s composition and atmosphere—there’s one milestone worth noting on Earth: This may be the mission with the most women in NASA history.

“I don't know whether it’s technically the most,” said Fran Bagenal, an astrophysicist who has worked on NASA missions for four decades. “But I was involved in Voyager going back to the ’70s, as well as Galileo, and a whole bunch of missions. I can say: There are certainly a lot of us.”

The New Horizons team includes about 200 people today, but there have been thousands of scientists and engineers who have contributed to the mission since it began more than a decade ago. Women make up about one-quarter of the flyby team, those responsible for the high-stakes mission taking place this month,according to NASA. The flyby is planned for Tuesday morning, when NASA’s probe is scheduled to be within about 8,000 miles of Pluto.

Bagenal is not the only one who has noticed the “dramatic change” in number of women on the...

From Crisis to Opportunity for OPM

There is always empathy when a leader takes the fall for problems they did not create. Katherine Archuleta’s resignation was similar to that when a losing team’s coach resigns. Redskin fans have lived with that for years.

For the Office of Personnel Management and the federal HR community this could be the start of that turnaround, maybe a renaissance. The interim director, Beth Cobert, is the first person in decades to have solid experience and strong credentials in human resource management. The HR community should be cheering. Some should be apprehensive because of what may be her plans and expectations.

She now will have roughly 18 months to improve the HR function in government. The timing could hardly be better. Assuming she wants the job, Congress should move quickly to confirm her before she has second thoughts. She could use every minute for the rebuilding. The professionalization of the function is something every federal leader should embrace.

Where to Begin?

One possibility is to start by engaging agency leaders in a confidential evaluation of their HR office. When companies want to assess the customers’ reactions to a product or service, they ask focus groups. Many leaders have no...