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

There Is Such a Thing As a Career Hot Streak—And It Can Happen At Anytime

Earlier this year, the Tate Modern in London had its first-ever solo exhibition of the work of Pablo Picasso. What was unusual was that the Tate focused on a single year of Picasso’s life in great detail, with the work, across nine rooms, unfolding month-by-month in chronological order. Titled Picasso 1932, it explores a pivotal moment in the artist’s career.

Having just turned 50, he was celebrated as a genius, living in chauffeured splendor in France, poised to break the record for a sale by a living artist (56,000 francs) and to hold the first retrospective in his lifetime in Zurich. But he also was living with an art world that questioned his relevance, carrying on an affair with the 22-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter that was about to destroy his marriage, and coping with the slow breaking apart of his home country of Spain, where the ground was being laid for civil war.

In this single year, Picasso created more than 100 paintings, drawings, and sculptures. They included three reclining nudes, supposedly inspired by Walter, that he painted in a span of 10 days at his country home in Normandy. One is owned by the Tate...

What Managers Should Do With 2018 Employee Viewpoint Survey Data

Federal agencies recently received their 2018 employee survey results that will be followed by our Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, a rich supply of data offering important insights into how employees view their jobs, leaders and the work environment.

It is critical for political and career executives to closely examine this data, not only to assess the overall level of employee engagement at their organizations, but to comb through responses of more than 70 survey questions to get a sense of how employees feel about specific aspects of their work life.

These issues include whether employees understand how their work relates to the agency’s goals and priorities, the pivotal role of frontline leaders, the perceptions of senior leaders and whether employees have enough faith in management to disclose a suspected violation of law or regulation without fear of reprisal. The questions also focus on whether employees feel their skills are used well, whether they believe they are recognized for doing good work and whether they have an opportunity for professional development.

Given our personal experiences in government and now as leaders at organizations that have been recognized as best places to work, we firmly believe...

The Problem With Harvard Business School Case Studies

Even if you didn’t go to business school, you’ve probably heard of Harvard case studies and the Harvard case method, the pedagogical system of choice at one of the world’s most elite business schools.

In slim booklets, the cases, of which there are tens of thousands, lay out the strategic questions facing a major corporation, like Amazon, GE, or Pepsi. The scenarios they describe are real, all ripped from the business pages.

The case method, as a style of learning, asks students to imagine themselves in the role of the “protagonist” (typically the CEO) leading the firm profiled in the case. They’re required to come to class prepared to make a solid argument for one course of direction, and then convince their peers of it, with rhetorical flair. Rather than lecture, the professor facilitates a class-wide debate, cold calling on students to answer tough questions.

Before graduating, Harvard Business School (HBS) students complete 500 of these “decision-forcing” exercises, which are thought to be superior tools for training future corporate leaders, compared with discussing skills and theory in the abstract. Arguably, because the method has been so widely adopted by other schools, which tend to combine it...

A Lack of Confidence Isn't What’s Holding Back Working Women

This much we know: There’s a wide and stubborn gender gap, both in terms of pay and leadership opportunities. What we still can’t figure out are the causes. Some argue that inflexible workplaces are to blame. Others point to sexist cultural norms and even outright discrimination.

While the truth is probably a combination of all these factors, and more, another theory has gained ground in recent years. Sometimes referred to as the “confidence gap,” the theory holds that women feel less confident than men in their own abilities, and in a corporate world that rewards horn tooters more than the humble, women’s tendency to avoid promoting themselves and their accomplishments means they’re passed over for big projects, leadership roles, and pay raises. The solution, women are told, is simple: Go forth with the confidence of a man, and that corner office will be yours. If sales of books like Lean In and The Confidence Code are any indication, many women have swallowed this interpretation hook, line, and sinker.

There’s just one problem: There’s a strong body of research suggesting that women feel just as confident in their abilities and leadership skills as their male...

There’s An Optimal Time To Give Negative Feedback

Oh, the joys of being criticized.

There’s nothing like being told you’re bad at something, especially when the dig comes from someone you respect. Some, including my former employer, harangue you into believing that every piece of feedback is a gift—no matter how badly it stings. These people are probably right. They also make me want to slam my head into a wall.

The truth, of course, is that without criticism we cannot improve. However, negative feedback can easily trigger defensiveness, which is a great way to stifle learning of any kind. Even pointing out a spelling error may piss someone off, if delivered in the wrong way, or at the wrong time.

As a manager, these sensitivities can make giving feedback intimidating. Per recent research, 44% of managers say they find it stressful and difficult to give negative feedback, and one-fifth avoid the practice entirely. Even more surprisingly, nearly 40% of leaders conceded to never giving positive reinforcement, either.

However, research from Northwestern University suggests there may be an optimal time to give negative feedback. This timing has to do with our capacity for self-regulation, which plummets when we’re worn out.

In their 2016 study...