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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

The Decision-Making Style That Helps Leaders Survive Can Also Thwart Their Legacy

When it comes to negotiating, world leaders often fall into two camps. On one side are those open about their decision-making and on the other are leaders who hold their playbook closely to their chest.

British prime minister Theresa May sits firmly in the latter camp.

May rarely promotes inclusive decision-making. She’s told members of her party to trust her (paywall) and let her get on with delivering Brexit. She works with a small, dedicated team; publicly, she only hints at policy ideas through vague slogans and speeches. She’s fought a court case that would allow British parliament to vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the European Union (EU) and resisted an amendment that would have given parliament the power to stop Britain leaving the EU without a deal. More recently, May barred mobile phones and special advisers from the cabinet away day at Chequers, where a plan for Brexit was being hammered out.

There are obvious advantages to May’s model. Political leaders who are closed off don’t have to compromise as much on their vision and can force policies through quickly. But while this form of decision-making has helped May...

There Are Two Types Of Respect. Lack One, And You’ll Hate Your Job

Feeling invisible, or like a cog in the machine, is a surefire way to make you hate your job. That’s because as human beings, we need to be seen by our peers, and our superiors. We need to feel we matter, or we lose our sense of self, and slip into the existential void.

This isn’t just a millennial, “special snowflake” phenomenon: Research repeatedly proves that feeling individually valued has a big influence on employee satisfaction, motivation, and productivity across industries and age groups. In a survey of 20,000 employees around the world, conducted in 2013 by Georgetown University’s Christine Porath with Tony Schwartz and Harvard Business Review, respondents indicated that the best way for leaders to communicate that sense of value is through respect. Being treated with respect, Porath noted, “was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback—even opportunities for learning, growth, and development.”

Not all respect is the same, though. And when you’re missing one type, it’s nearly impossible to feel valued at work, according to Kristie Rogers, a management professor at Marquette University. Writing in HBR’s July-August 2018 issue, she explains...

10 Leadership Questions for Brian Fox

This is part of a series of Q&As with notable leaders across government where we explore what it takes to succeed in federal service. If you have a suggestion for a future candidate, please email it to with "Leader" in the subject line.

Brian Fox oversees development activity in support of The National Map, a collaborative effort of federal, state and local partners to support scientific analysis and emergency response. It is a cornerstone of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Geospatial Program. Prior to that, he supported the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in a variety of roles. Fox recently shared with Government Executive some lessons he’s learned on management and leadership.  

1. What motivates you to get up every morning and go to work?  

Working for the federal government gives me an opportunity to serve the American public.  Sometimes I like to joke that “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” but it’s true! I have focused throughout my career, regardless of agency or department, on serving and helping in whatever my role. Being helpful and of service is what motivates me on a daily basis.   

2. What’s...

The Pay Gap Analysis is a House of Cards

What are you going to believe, the statistics or your lying eyes? That 32 percent pay gap between what federal employees make versus their private sector counterparts outlined in the latest Federal Salary Council report is based on a staggeringly complex methodology that cannot be validated.

One of the two Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys used in the annual gap analysis, the Occupational Employment Statistics survey, provide average pay levels across the country for about 800 occupations and approximately 415 industry classifications—and data for 82 million workers—but occupation by occupation, the numbers do not show that feds make 32 percent less than comparable private sector workers.

I did not invest the time to check all 800 occupations but here is a mixed sample of 10 jobs, comparing the average federal salary (from Fedscope) with the OES average.

Occupation Federal  OES Survey  Difference
Average Average
Chemist $112,477 $81,870 37.4%
Civil Engineer $97,563 $91,910 6.2%
Electrical  $100,634 $99,580 1.1%
Psychologist $96,628 $82,770 16.7%
Librarian $93,678 $60,760 54.2%
Nurse $88,564 $73,580 20.4%
Physical  $86,477 $88,080 -1.8%
Accountant $103...

Job References Often Lie. Ask These Questions To Make Them Tell The Truth

In the dance of hiring, few steps are more scripted than checking job references. Hiring managers usually call references to confirm their instincts or because HR requires they do so. More often than not, candidates list references who will sing their praises. What’s more, research suggests that candidates rarely select (and interviewers rarely request) references who will depict a multi-dimensional picture of their personal and professional skills.

For hiring managers, it’s easy to wonder whether checking references is a total waste of time. But according to organizational psychologist Adam Grant, there’s a simple way to make job references tell the truth about a candidate, without making anyone uncomfortable. This is invaluable, as job references are one of the only ways to see beyond the veneer of dazzling credentials and well-rehearsed interviews.

“Leaders often tell me they struggle to get references to be honest about a candidate’s weaknesses,” writes Grant in the June edition of Wondering, his monthly newsletter. While this dishonesty is usually well-intentioned advocacy, it can sometimes be “a dreaded case of foisting,” he says, “where references are so desperate to get rid of a bad candidate that manufacture the perfect plan to convince you...