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The Federal Coach

Walking in another's shoes

This week's questions come from two Washington D.C. federal managers. Please continue sharing your ideas and questions by emailing me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Every leader reports to another leader. Although I'm a GS-14, I report to someone who is younger than me. What should I do when I see them making mistakes?-Federal Manager (GS-14), Transportation Security Administration

Diplomatically help your younger boss become better.

Before doing anything, I recommend that you do some soul-searching to consider whether you and your supervisor simply have stylistic differences. Is your supervisor really making a mistake, or perhaps just doing things differently than you? If the differences are stylistic, you'll need to accept that fact and move on.

If your supervisor is making real mistakes, you'll need to assess the impact of those mistakes. If the missteps are minor, let them go. If the mistakes are affecting the team's performance, you should provide your supervisor with honest feedback. You would expect the same in return, right?

Of course, providing upward coaching is difficult. While you need to be careful that you avoid giving your supervisor the impression that you are the team's resident "know it all," you have an obligation to help your team perform at its very best.

Perhaps the two of you could grab lunch or coffee and have a general conversation about the team's operations and performance. Within that context, you could surface some of the issues you've identified and offer some suggestions about action steps. Avoid being critical and instead focus on providing your leader with help to strengthen the team.

A good leader will appreciate your candor and offer of assistance. You'll become a better leader and colleague in the process as well.

How can I persuade my agency's IT team to try a new system? IT has invested many years and millions of dollars in a computerized file system that doesn't meet our division's needs. They are resistant to even piloting a different system that could integrate the current system and provide additional functionality.-Federal Manager (GS-15) U.S. Food and Drug Administration

One of a leader's greatest challenges is working with different functions (IT, HR, finance, etc.) within an agency to achieve your program results. Sometimes it may feel that a function provides roadblocks instead of answers.

Like any relationship, effectively collaborating with your IT staff requires an open mind, exceptional listening skills and a sincere understanding of their perspective as well as your own.

To start, you may want to examine your agency's decision to invest in your current system as well as your past outreach to your IT resource. Perhaps they do not have the staffing resources, expertise, budget, or authority - i.e., someone else is dictating the use of this system - to make a change.

Here are a few concrete suggestions for beginning your outreach:

•Have a one-on-one meeting with an IT contact. Open the conversation by asking for their help finding some solutions to make things better. It may be a new system, or it may be a simple modification, more training or another unrecognized solution. Let your contact know you understand that they are trying to make the best of the current system but that it is having a negative impact on your team's productivity.

•Also, you may want to consider inviting an IT representative to participate in your next team meeting to discuss your team's challenges with the current system. You'll want to avoid holding a griping session. If facilitated well, however, IT will have an opportunity to hear what your folks are dealing with first-hand.

•Invite an IT representative to shadow one of your folks for a day. You know what they say about walking in another person's shoes. You might have one of your people do the same thing with IT.

By Tom Fox

 |  July 8, 2010; 4:23 PM ET |  Category:  Ask the Federal Coach Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Rethinking the workplace in the 21st century | Next: Young gov leaders: Love them or lose them

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