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

To Be a Good Manager, You First Need to Manage Your Ego

Sitting across from Carlos Tavares, the chief executive officer of PSA Peugeot Citroen, he explained how he uses his love of race car driving to keep his ego in check.

I’d worked with Mr. Tavares for more than a year when he left his position as chief operating officer of the Renault Group to become the CEO of PSA, Europe’s second largest automaker. Although it had been nearly two years since I’d seen him, I felt at ease with him sitting in his new office just footsteps from Paris’s iconic Arc de Triomphe. 

Born in Portugal and educated in France, Mr. Tavares communicated a genuine curiosity and quiet confidence that I admired. At Renault, he was always eager to hear my ideas and I was flattered and bolstered by his confidence in me. 

My new book, Leader Designed: Become the Leader You Were Made to Be, was due out in the next few months, and I’d returned to Paris to see some key people and get their thoughts on what seems to be a global deficit of good leaders and what can be done to meet this growing need.

“I race cars,” said the long...

The Single Best Tool to Make You a Better Leader

There are seemingly endless opportunities to waste our time in search of improved productivity, increased creativity and higher quality in our personal and working lives. The buffet of apps for our devices and ubiquitous articles offering tips to help us conquer our personal drift toward entropy are everywhere. It feels as if everyone is looking for help and no one is finding what they need.

In my informal polling of people I encounter, most are not feeling better organized and prioritized and on-task as a result. Most people tend to look and act like their hair is perpetually on fire.

Perhaps we’re looking for technology to solve a distinctly analog (human) challenge.

The other day I observed a pilot at a small regional airport prepare to fly his private plane on a cross-country journey carrying his wife and infant child. Precious cargo.

He walked slowly around the plane looking it over and testing the various moveable parts. He made certain the gas caps were secure, ran his hands over the plane’s surface and then satisfied that all was good, he climbed into a cockpit filled with technology and proceeded to pull out the most fundamental of all personal...

What Dads Can Do at Home to Help Daughters Grow Into Successful Leaders

My dad loves to argue—and growing up, he’d do it with me any chance he got. As a kid, he offered me a pound in exchange for a five-minute fight (a reference to a Monty Python skit at an “argument clinic”). We debated about everything, from politics to my piano performances.

As an adult, I can’t say I’m the best at confrontation. But the tradition (still ongoing) did teach me to have confidence in the value of my opinion and how to articulate my beliefs in a debate. That came in handy when I began my career in journalism–and it’s just one example of the ways in which fathers can prepare their daughters to succeed in the modern workplace.

As society’s ideas about gender roles evolve, “fathers seem to be having considerably more impact on their daughters than ever before” with regard to their careers, writes Linda Nielsen, a professor of psychology at Wake Forest University and the author of two books on father-daughter relationships. Nielsen cites research suggesting daughters’ academic and career achievements were closely related to the quality of their childhood relationships with their fathers.

“This may help explain why first-born...

Ancient Egyptians’ 4,000-year-old Strategy for Dealing With an 'Argumentative Superior'

Patience is a virtue. Don’t bug your partner about their weight. Try not to vex your boss. As a new translation of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs reveals, the fundamental rules of human behavior have changed little in the last 4,000 years—and wisdom from the times of the pharaohs still rings wry and insightful today.

Writings from Ancient Egypt (Penguin Classics) is an anthology of millennia-old papyrus, letters, and stone carvings, selected and translated into sparkling contemporary English by Cambridge University Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson. Released in the UK on Aug. 24, the book aims to cast new light on writing from the ancient civilization. Egyptian art and artifacts are full of hieroglyphs, points out Wilkinson in his introduction, yet museum visitors rarely get to read the stories they tell.

This book offers a taste of the vast body of ancient Egyptian literature. In addition to glamorous accounts of war and royalty, it’s packed with extraordinarily personal tales of life and the social anxieties of the time.

The 1147 BCE will of a twice-married mother dictates leaving three adult children out of her inheritance because they took her for granted. A 2300 BCE memoir by a desert scout recounts...

Here’s What Coworkers Think When You Kiss Up to your Boss

Few employees would deny that ingratiation is ubiquitous in the workplace.

This behavior goes by many names – kissing up, sucking up, brown-nosing and ass-kissing. Indeed, the fact that there are so many names that describe this behavior suggests that it’s something that goes on all the time at work.

Ingratiation is defined as the use of certain positive behaviors such as flattery, doing favors or conforming to another’s opinions to get someone else to like you . This behavior is especially common when employees interact with a supervisor because of the latter’s status and control over important work resources , including job assignments, responsibilities, pay and promotions .

So we all know that this goes on all the time, but what do we really understand about how these behaviors operate at work?

While social influence behaviors like ingratiation are typically thought of as a dyadic phenomenon (that is, involving two people – the ingratiator and the ingratiated), these behaviors are actually embedded in a much more complex and dynamic work environment, which includes many other people.

To get a clearer picture of how these behaviors operate, my colleague and I examined how they work from a third party’s point of...

Managing Your Workforce When Employees Are All Over the Map

In many government organizations, jobs are distributed across large geographic areas, where employees are accountable to different bosses and responsive to different regulations and rules. Managing such an enterprise from a central office can be akin to navigating an ocean with many islands, each surrounded by unique currents and shoals.

Managers must be able to measure results across the enterprise and ensure that employees are well trained and knowledgeable about institutional requirements. So, is it logistically possible to roll out an effective, engaging training program where employees retain what they learn? How can managers create a program that brings tangible results to potentially thousands of workers in such distributed government positions? Using a centralized learning management system to administer a blended learning program is one way.

Government agencies are moving to technology-based learning as a cost-effective strategy for training and professional development. A learning management system provides a hub where universal design for learning allows instructional designers and trainers to create and collect content and to distribute standardized and branded education. An LMS is a central place for learners to show up, receive instruction, and to be in community with the whole of the learning organization, with on-demand anytime, anywhere...

No, You Probably Shouldn’t Follow Every Order From Your Boss

To protect the reputation of your agency and its leaders you need to know when and how to disobey. You read that correctly. There is a high level competency called intelligent disobedience. It is rarely taught in leadership development programs. It should be. Here’s why.

No leader is going to give correct orders all the time. Sooner or later they will issue or approve a poorly thought out initiative. Why? There are many possible reasons. They have been given skewed data, the analysis is faulty, they are under pressure from powerful constituencies, they are tired. It happens. The question is what do the people who receive the order do?

I was teaching a course for the Office of Personnel Management on Leader-Follower dynamics based on my earlier book The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders. I asserted that most of the time it makes sense to comply with orders, but sometimes it is wrong or dangerous to do so. A mid-level careerist said she had an example of that under the table. Huh? That got my attention.

There was a dog under the table, she explained, that was being trained to be a guide dog for...

When Performance Measures are Counter-Productive

One reason to measure performance is to evaluate the effectiveness of organizations and of people. But this is not the only purpose. In fact, I think that there are multiple answers to the question: “Why measure performance?” And one of these purposes is to motivate organizations and people.

It might not seem that these two purposes are in conflict. After all, we want to motivate people to accomplish what we want to evaluate. Still, any effort to measure performance ought to come with a big, flashing warning sign: A measure that works well for one purpose, might not work so well for other purposes.

Consider the challenge of both motivating and evaluating the performance of school districts, schools, and even individual teachers: If we create a measure for evaluative purposes, will this simultaneously accomplish our motivational purposes? Maybe. Maybe not.

To evaluate students’ learning (and thus to evaluate teachers’ teaching), we usually create a test that covers what we want students to learn.

We cannot, however, require students to spend too much time taking tests. Thus, no test can cover everything we want students to learn. So we have to focus a test on the most important ideas, concepts, and...

The Secret to Repairing a Broken Conversation

We’ve all been there. In the midst of a productive conversation with a colleague, something unexpected happens. It might be an awkward phrase or an unintended tone of voice, or maybe someone simply says something we don’t want to hear. Suddenly the conversation has veered off course and one or both of us now feels disregarded, disrespected, or just plain angry.

It’s common in these situations for one or both people to shut down and begin to avoid the conversation or, perhaps, each other entirely. It’s as if the conversational road disappears and we’re suddenly in off-road conditions that are full of nerve-wracking pitfalls and uncomfortable dust-ups as we make clumsy attempts to salvage the dialogue. We blame the other person, we lick our wounds, and we retreat inward. The problem is that these reactions are ineffective and destabilizing in business settings where team and one-on-one conversations are crucial for planning and productivity.

Navigating these situations requires an ability to lead and communicate in the moment—to steer the conversation back on course and keep it, and the relationship, on a productive trajectory.

In my work as an organizational leadership consultant and executive coach, I...

Is Telework Really Benefitting Your Agency?

The Washington Post, citing a Government Accountability Office report, recently published an article entitled More Feds are Working from Home. But no one has figured out whether that’s really a good thing.

The thrust of the report and the article is that while roughly 267,000 Federal employees are now working at home, according to GAO, “Agencies continue to face challenges in quantifying the impact of telework, identifying costs incurred, and translating benefits into quantifiable cost savings.”

Some of the purported advantages of telework are that it will “improve recruitment/retention, increased productivity, and improved work/life balance.” It can also save money and energy by reducing the need for office space, reduce the number of employee absences, provide greater flexibility on snow days and during emergencies, limit greenhouse emissions, etc. However, according to GAO, “Without data on net benefits including cost savings associated with telework, agencies have incomplete information to determine the value of telework through assessing whether the benefits being achieved outweigh the costs incurred.”

Telework is not a magic bullet and it does have its costs and challenges. For example, there are costs to set up work-at-home arrangements—personnel costs, training needs, etc.  Also, telework may...