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

Please Back Away From the Partisan Brink

U.S. presidential elections have historically served as fulcrums of national renewal. They bring new energy and fresh ideas to the often enervating business of governing, satisfying the drive for reform and continual self-improvement that are central to the American character. As Alexis de Tocqueville once noted, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” Every four years we consider our faults anew, and decide which candidate is best equipped for the job of repair.

Yet increasingly our politics of hyper-partisanship, deep division and permanent campaigning are grinding that cycle of national renewal to a halt. New presidents are immediately confronted by an opposition party unified in obstructionism. The zero-sum, all-or-nothing dynamic of campaigns -- where there are only winners and losers -- never really gives way to the necessary “win-win” of governing, where progress is only achieved through coalition-building, mutually beneficial compromise, and consensus. Our faults go unrepaired and big problems fester, whether it’s a crumbling domestic infrastructure, dramatic declines in U.S. military readiness, or the unsustainable accumulation of debt. Signs of such decay are already clearly evident.

There is plenty of blame to...

Inbox Zero is a Waste of Time. This is How a World-class Behavioral Economist Tames His Email

The Inbox Zero movement is now a decade old. Introduced by the awesomely named Merlin Mann in 2007, it was initially a system for managing clutter and distractions but it’s evolved into a modern philosophy, a means of asserting our humanity over the machines we live with.

While the act of clearing out an inbox can feel as satisfying as cleaning the refrigerator, it’s ultimately just another way of wasting time, argues Dan Ariely, a psychologist and behavioral economist at Duke University. Like writing meticulous to-do lists, obsessively sorting and deleting emails is “structured procrastination,” Ariely said on the Bloomberg Game Plan podcast.

We tend to tackle projects like sorting and replying to emails because they’re discrete tasks. And finishing them gives us a sense of accomplishment, he said. But it’s still keeping us from our actual work, which can be messy, frustrating and lacking in immediate payoffs.

“How many people are going to die happy knowing they got to email zero?” Ariely asked. “This is not the stuff that makes for long-term happiness, but because it’s present and immediate and beeps and someone’s waiting, it takes precedence over the things that are important...

The 7 Tools of Great Leaders

Your purpose as a leader is to become a source of growth for the people around you. There’s nothing more sacred or important in your work than helping others grow. To do this, you need to draw upon seven powerful tools.

Serving as a source of growth requires a deliberate effort to:

1. Pay attention. Your willingness to listen and focus on the work of your colleagues is a high form of showing respect. Respect is rocket fuel for relationships.

2. Trust. Try giving your trust instead of requiring people to earn it. This gesture is most often reciprocated, and the payback includes increased morale, improved motivation and better performance. If your trust is abused, deal with it at that time. Just quit demanding that others earn your trust first.

3. Coach. Good people are looking for help to improve and grow. Observe, offer feedback and employ feed-forward daily.

4. Challenge. Work that pushes us into unfamiliar areas and demands new ways of thinking and acting promotes growth. You may have to shove or take something away or ask someone to step sideways or backward, but you must challenge them to help them grow.

5. Praise. Delivering praise is...

There’s One Kind of Employee Who is Vastly Underappreciated in Most Modern Offices

Extroverts are the darlings of the modern office. Conventional wisdom holds that to succeed in the 21st century workplace, you need to be bold, outgoing, and highly energetic—and that your contributions are only worth as much as your ability to chat frequently, and excitedly, about them.

But I think conventional wisdom has gotten things wrong. There’s no doubt that extroverts can make excellent employees. But introverts have their own unique strengths. Consider the four qualities identified by leaders from companies including Apple, Microsoft, and SAP as essential for strong employees: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.

Critical thinking

In an information economy, critical thinking ability is a highly valued skill. The best workers need to be able to solve novel problems, weigh evidence, and construct persuasive arguments. In his insightful book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport refers to the fullest use of these abilities as “deep work,” and argues that it is crucial to success in our hyper-competitive global economy. Deep work, at its core, is the ability to stay with a problem long past when it gets hard.

This commitment and long-term focus lines up very well with the introverted...

How Trump’s Plan to Reorganize Government Could Work

On March 13, President Trump issued an executive order for a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch. It calls for the OMB director and agency heads to develop plans for improving the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of agencies, subcomponents and programs within 180 days. It also calls for a post in the Federal Register to solicit public input along with  advice from experts inside and outside of government.

I like it.

No, I am not naïve, and yes, I have seen this many times before. But if done right, with a strong foundation and a plan, it could work. It could also be another once-and-done exercise that demonstrates little to no value. Many administrations have conducted similar exercises, most of which faded with the political passing. The Trump executive order runs the risk of having little or negative impact, reducing readiness and demoralizing employees. It also has the potential to do great things for our country.

Here are a few suggestions for how to make it work.

  1. It must involve Congress. Since lawmakers hold the statutory authority to reorganize as well as authorize programs, they must be in the mix. Capitol Hill and the administration must be on...

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