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

How Reporters Misread Trump’s First Week in Office

Let’s look back at President Donald J. Trump’s amazing first-week flurry of executive orders: Not since the media coalesced around the “Trump can never win” meme have so many reporters gotten so much wrong. Much of the coverage has been apocalyptic, but most of the orders have been more pop than sizzle.

What a boffo opening! The Trump team actually managed to convince reporters—and subsequently most Americans—that the flurry of executive orders actually did something. They’re part of a deliberate chaos, masterfully orchestrated to create as much disruption to Washington’s governing traditions as possible—and from the chaos, to give Trump the chance to do what he really wants to do.

But the challenge comes after the curtain rises on Trump’s second act: how he will move past the announcements of ideas to building capacity to get results. Steven Suskin’s book on the biggest bombs in Broadway musicals, Second Act Troubles, points to the real issues. There’s a long list of big plays with big stars and great opening numbers that fell apart in the second act. Sometimes personality conflicts and artistic differences shredded the play. Sometimes costly rewrites and recasting...

The Border Wall Is a Negotiating Tactic Straight Out of 'The Art of the Deal'

On Jan. 25, representatives of Mexico’s government arrived in Washington to meet with White House officials. The purpose: preliminary discussions ahead of talks between Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and new US president Donald Trump, who are scheduled to meet on Jan. 31 to discuss NAFTA, immigration, and border security.

It’s expected to be a contentious discussion. And even before the Mexican delegation landed, Trump undermined their negotiating position.

With a single tweet, Trump ratcheted up the already high stakes for Peña Nieto in renegotiating his country’s most important international relationship. The Mexican peso plunged (though it’s since more than recovered) and Mexicans had a fit, some even demanding that their president cancel the trip in response to the Trumpian affront.

The timing perhaps was coincidental. But reading the wall announcement as a tactic for revamping what Trump has repeatedly characterized as a lousy deal with Mexico is not completely preposterous. After all, Trump himself has argued that one of his top qualifications to be president is his ability to make...

Why It’s So Hard for Women to Break Into the C-suite

With the first U.S. presidential election featuring a major party female nominee in the rear-view mirror and her male rival about to take the presidential oath, now is a good time to examine the progress women have made toward gender equality.

First, the good news: While Clinton lost the election, she still won the popular vote – by almost three million votes, in fact. About 66 million Americans affirmed that a woman is fit to lead one of the world’s most powerful nations.

In addition, women now account for 51 percent of management, professional and other high-wage occupations in the U.S., and research shows they perform slightly better than men at work. Some analysts argue that once women’s career choices, such as taking time off or opting for flexible hours, are considered, the male-female pay gap disappears.

Does this mean the glass ceiling has been broken?

Well, not so fast. Now the bad news.

Fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, while Donald Trump has nominated just three women to join his 15-member Cabinet. In addition, women who seek power are still met with skepticism – or worse – by many.

Clinton’s gender, for example...

Burned Out? Take a Sabbatical

According to a recent report called Calculating the True Cost of Voluntary Turnover, the average turnover rate across the workforce is 13 percent. If an organization has 30,000 employees and that rate of turnover is assumed, the report authors estimate the cost to the organization would be a staggering $427 million per year.

We know that turnover is expensive and that job tenure is low, with a median employment length of less than five years. What’s surprising is that most employers haven’t done anything to address retention, except to keep recruiting and replacing. 

The U.S. Navy is different. Several years ago, its leaders sought to understand why people were quitting, and learned that it wasn’t because they didn’t like the Navy. Rather, it was because a lifelong naval career required sacrifices that some employees weren’t willing to make.

The Navy’s leadership realized a simple fact: If you have a known entity—someone who is a strong, trusted contributor—you want to keep them. And you can do that by giving them choices.

In 2009, the service established the Career Intermission Program to address its sailors’ work/life challenges. Since then, every year...

Don't Be a Seagull Manager

Donald Trump crashed headlong into the plans of Congressional Republicans Tuesday, demanding they hurry up and repeal Obamacare, with or without a replacement plan.

Forgive the GOP leaders if they roll their eyes at yet another inconvenient outburst from the incoming commander-in-chief. While they’re hip-deep in intricate legislative maneuvering—they want to follow up on their election pledge, while keeping nervous senators in the fold—Trump has again made a mess of their work.

There’s a term for this kind of boss: a seagull manager. First coined by management gurus Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson in their book The One-Minute Manager, they wrote that “seagull managers fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyone, and then fly out.”

Other writers on management have adopted the concept, and fleshed out the characteristics of the seagull manager:

  • Fly in: They avoid involving themselves in the details of a project, but at the first sign of trouble, swoop in and attempt to play hero.
  • Make a lot of noise: They frequently overreact, feign shock, send mass emails (or frequently in Trump’s case, tweets) and offer little more than formulaic advice.
  • Dump on everyone: They’re quick to criticize...

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