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Why Every Executive Needs to Be Both a Hedgehog and a Fox

In his essay on Leo Tolstoy’s view of history, Isaiah Berlin begins with a quote from the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

The same distinction could be used to categorize public executives. Some know lots of little things. Others know—or, at least, focus on—one big thing.

This distinction can be illustrated by one contrasting pair of public executives: presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Carter was the prototypical fox. Reagan exemplified the hedgehog.

Berlin, of course, was not interested in elected executives or, indeed, in any executives in the public, private, or nonprofit sectors. He was focused on “the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers.” As Berlin explained it, Dante, Plato and Kafka were hedgehogs; Aristotle, Shakespeare and Joyce were foxes.

Still, this deep difference also divides public executives.

Certainly, public executives may not need to write. When it comes to putting words on paper (or even on a screen) many have speech writers and interns to do this for them.

Still, there are counter examples. Winston Churchill was an excellent writer, and his literary skills reflected his analytical powers. To be an excellent writer, a ...

The Complete Guide to Being on Time

Those who think people can’t change might argue that punctuality, a beloved characteristic in American culture, can’t be learned. No doubt it’s a tough undertaking for those who aren’t naturally punctual. But there are ways to help identify the root causes of tardiness, and tricks to lessen the stress and at times humiliation of showing up late.

Check your mental health

Being chronically late can have deep psychological drivers that go beyond having too much to do or mistiming traffic. Diane DeLonzer, author of Never Be Late Again, said in the Huffington Post that those with certain personality traits such as “anxiety, low self-control and a tendency toward thrill-seeking” tend to be late more often. Problems such as attention deficit disorder and obsessive compulsiveness—which often drive late-goers to spend needless time fixing crooked placemats or over-surfing the Internet—can be to blame.

Identifying such chronic symptoms not only helps ease the guilty feelings associated with being late; it allows a person to create coping mechanisms to facilitate being on time.

Avoid over-scheduling your day

Society tends to reward busy overachievers. But the tendency for overachievers to over-schedule activities often leads to tardiness, according to DeLonzer ...

3 Ways to Keep Stress From Poisoning Your Work Environment

Raise your hand if this feels familiar: You’re completely overwhelmed, frantic and stressed to the max. You have a never-ending task list and not enough hours in the day. Inadvertently, you end up either burdening yourself to the breaking point resulting in poor work and even more stress or barking orders at your team, further perpetuating the tension and negativity.

Unfortunately, many of us have been there more often than we’d like. It’s times like these when we have to take extra care not to let our stress adversely affect our team. When we radiate negativity, it’s bad for everyone. Instead of letting that happen, here are a few tips for handling your stress and maintaining a positive team attitude in crazy-busy times.

1. Take time to plan and prioritize. It may seem counterproductive at the time, but sitting down and mapping out all of your tasks and their priority levels will save you countless freakout moments down the road. Use a “Task List” tool, whether on your calendar, phone, email client or good old pen and paper, to capture everything on your plate. Leave no task uncaptured, no matter how trivial; this will help ...

Networking Can Make People Feel Physically Dirty

Learning to Love Networking: It could be the title of a self-help chart-topper, if only because so few of us actually enjoy extolling ourselves to higher-ups. In fact, new research shows schmoozing for career growth can leave workers feeling morally impure, and even physically dirty. Yes, dirty.

Networking felt most palpably repugnant among those with low power in their workplaces—sadly, the workers who need the career-expanding benefits of networking most. Often, "people feel that they cannot justify their actions to themselves," Tiziana Casciaro, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto and a co-author of the study, told "[A]nd the lack of justification comes from the difficulty people have in framing some forms of networking as motivated by a concern for other people versus a selfish concern."

Which is to say, the ick factor can result from the apparent self-serving nature of networking. But, Casciaro said, when people start to view networking not only as an opportunity for self-gain but also as a way to show how their skills and talents could help the other person, those dirty feelings can be overcome.

Notably, workers with greater power in their workplaces networked more often than ...

Cutting Red Tape: It's Time to Sweat the Small Stuff

As budget reductions take hold and the federal workforce is reduced, the government will inevitably focus on process and other improvements to achieve more with less. One area of inefficiency agencies seem to overlook is the unnecessary complexity of daily activity in management practices. The work and approval process in many agencies has become so complex that a simple hiring decision, procurement action, budget approval or external communication can rarely be executed effectively and efficiently. Complexity reduction doesn’t require large-scale organizational transformation, it just requires agencies to focus on reducing waste and assuring valuable resources are being put toward the most critical functions of the organizations.Bureaucracy should be a term for explaining governance, not a synonym for red tape. 

What is Complexity Reduction?

Complexity in organizations is created by the number of steps, resources or decisions required to complete a function or comply with a rule. Complexity reduction is the process of streamlining management practices, removing resource wasters and addressing management inefficiencies to create an environment that is both efficient and effective. 

Unfortunately in government, complexity is an inherent part of our system of checks and balances. It is imperative to ensure standards are being met, regulations are ...