Leadership lessons from 'the best place to work in federal government'
How do you continue to keep your employees engaged in NRC's mission and work?
We listen to our employees. I think what is really incumbent upon me and the other senior managers is to make sure we listen to figure out, "What do you need in order to best carry out our mission?" Communication is one of the biggest keys to being successful in this kind of position. You have to communicate not only what your direction is but then also hear from your employees about how they would solve the problems that are coming up. It's never easy to be sure that you're encouraging dissenting views to come forward, but we strive to create an environment where people feel comfortable raising a different view than what may be the mainstream. That requires a high degree of trust between managers and staff. It's something where there's no end, but you work on it continuously to refine, improve and enhance.
How often do you directly communicate with NRC employees?
I try to communicate at least on a weekly basis through a blog that I've started. It may be issues that are of large global importance to the agency or sometimes smaller issues that catch my attention. I found that it's an informal way to keep in touch with the agency. Once a year, I also hold an open house where I open up my office to everyone in the agency. It gives me a chance to meet people who I may not have an opportunity to interact with directly. I try to keep lots of different avenues open for communication, but fundamentally it comes through the tremendous work of the senior managers--who ultimately have the job to communicate with the staff and to bring those views to my attention and all of the leaders at this agency.
How can federal leaders effectively build relationships?
Be proactive and reach out to people. The first time you communicate with someone shouldn't be in the middle of a crisis or when there's a problem. You need to build those relationships early. One of the first things I did when I became chairman is I worked to reach out to a wide variety of stakeholders, groups and organizations [to] establish a dialogue and let them know that they could reach out to me. You have to continue to build those relationships every day, and it's something that is a foundation for everything I do.
What did you learn about leadership working on the Hill, and how have you applied this knowledge at NRC?
One of the things I learned in working for Senator Reid was the importance of building consensus and, more importantly, working across the aisle. The most successful people on the Hill were people who were able to do that, and it was certainly a lesson I took with me to the Commission. On so many issues that we face as a nation, there are different viewpoints, and it's important to hear other people's views and what their thoughts are on issues. You may not always agree on solutions, but it's important to have that dialogue and respect the people who disagree with you and learn how to build those collaborations.
How do you manage your time?
If there's any silver bullet, it's to hire really good people to help you--and that's what I've found with time management. I look for people who can help organize my day and time.
One of the bigger challenges is having the time to step back and think. That's one of the things that I've found I need to build into my schedule so I can have some time to think and focus on the bigger picture, and not only on the myriad issues that crop up in any day and need to be dealt with and addressed. I've found that if I don't specifically set time aside, it doesn't ultimately get done. So I set aside time specifically to do that longer-term planning and thinking.
Who is your leadership role model, and what lessons do you take away from their example?
I learned from my parents the importance of treating others kindly and having strong values in the decisions that drive you. I always like to say, "You need to start from a strong sense of your values," because inherently in negotiation, you're compromising in order to achieve something important. That's something I learned from my parents, and it really taught me to understand what those values are, where you're coming from and what you believe in fundamentally.
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