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

Can Government Earn Citizens' Trust?

Distrust may be the biggest governmental crisis of our time. Donald F. Kettl explores the issue in his new book, Can Governments Earn Our Trust? What follows is an excerpt: 

The foundation for building trust begins with the argument for transparency. The central idea, developed during the Enlightenment, is that government's legitimacy builds on the consent of the governed. But, to give consent, citizens must know what government is doing and find effective levers of influence. James Madison, one of America's most distinguished founders, and later the country's fourth president, wrote in Federalist 51, part of a series of papers devoted to making the case for the new American Constitution: "If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." Of course, men are not angels, so democracy requires ways of helping the governed to control government. That begins, in the minds of many theorists and citizens alike, with the most important...

Rethinking Remote Work

IBM is the latest firm to announce an end to remote working arrangements—a practice it popularized and enabled through its products and advertising.

It seems there’s a trend, particularly in struggling companies ranging from Best Buy a few years ago, to Yahoo, and now, IBM (20 quarters of declining revenues) to find it a requirement to house employees near one another.

For knowledge worker organizations dependent upon the best and brightest, this reversion to old thinking seems . . . old, and mostly wrong. Nonetheless, I acknowledge that it is a complicated issue.

Two Schools of Thought

Over my career in software and technology firms, I have been exposed to two schools of practice for remote work.

One camp was opposed to the idea, operating with what I perceived was an unspoken assumption that employees could not be trusted to work if they were out of the line of sight of managers. That was (and is) short-sighted, untrusting, and petty thinking.

The other school embraced the idea wholeheartedly (and sometimes naively) and invested in technologies and approaches to enable distance workers to participate and collaborate.

In our software firms, the distance effort mostly worked, particularly if we allocated liberal budgets for...

Evaluating Trump's Psyche in Public

It’s not hard to find somebody who’s willing to call the president of the United States crazy. “Madman” was, after all, one of the words that cropped up most frequently in coverage about him during the 2016 campaign.

But psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental-health professionals have been especially careful about not speculating about the president’s mental state. Well, some of them have been. (It’s not like this question has been left unexplored entirely, however, including in the pages of this magazine.)

But, officially, many psychiatrists and psychologists are cautious, and for good reason. Leading professional organizations like the American Psychiatric Association have underscored the importance of upholding what’s known as the Goldwater Rule, which says psychiatrists should never give opinions about the mental state of individuals they have not directly evaluated. The name refers to a controversy that erupted after the 1964 presidential election, when Senator Barry Goldwater won a libel suit against a magazine that printed the opinion, shared by about 1,000 psychiatrists, that he was mentally unfit for office.

The rule isn’t just about avoiding litigation. Psychiatrists warn that they risk losing patient trust and diminishing the integrity of the profession...

Trump at Six Months

If there’s any lesson from Donald Trump’s first six months as president, it’s that any prediction is wildly risky. New York Yankee great Yogi Berra must have had this moment in mind when he said, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

But let’s give it a stab. Here are six lessons we might glean as we mark the 1/8th point of the Trump presidency.

1. Political conversation has been indelibly coarsened. We’ve been teetering on the edge of greater incivility for a long time, but the administration’s sharp elbows will make it very hard to go back. Of course, it’s easy to pine for days that never existed. Fortunately, it would be hard to top the street brawls surrounding the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. But we’ve clearly crossed a line in the last months, in which ad hominem attacks are more common, more nasty, and more pointed. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll easily get back to the civil side of the line, even if future candidates promise they’ll do so, as they surely will.

2. Future presidents won’t rely on...

Most People Feel Guilty About Taking Breaks—But Science Shows Rest Is Just As Vital As Hard Work

It’s important to know how to put your head down and work hard. In an increasingly globalized economy—in which we are competing not just with each other, but also with human-replacing technologies—those who embody grit and grind will have an undeniable edge.

But that’s only half the battle. If we ceaselessly push ourselves without ever taking breaks, the quality of our work will suffer in the short term. And in the long term, we’ll be liable to burnout. For hard work to become valuable and sustainable, it must be followed by rest and recovery.

There is no shortage of products that promise to help us “hack” our way to sustainable peak performance. Unfortunately, every quick fix that I’ve ever evaluated has one thing in common: they all fade quickly. The vast majority of scientific evidence suggests that the best way to grow a capability—whether it’s learning an instrument, running a marathon, or improving at public speaking—is to give yourself an intense challenge, follow it up with a period of rest and recovery, and then rinse and repeat, only this time, starting with a slightly more demanding challenge. As I explain in...