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The Federal Coach

Avoiding federal manager burnout

This week's questions come from federal managers at the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Please continue sharing your ideas and questions by leaving a comment or emailing me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

What are some effective ways to develop credibility as a leader?-Federal manager, U.S. Department of Defense

The most important thing you can do to have credibility as a leader is to genuinely care for and champion the people you lead. That authentic desire to help members of your team succeed and grow is the primary ingredient of successful leadership.

To develop your personal leadership skills, there are four essential elements that I've observed through my work with federal leaders. They are: effectively managing yourself, understanding organizational context, building a network and finding mentors.

To establish credibility as a leader, it's important that you develop some expertise about the discipline of leadership, the subject matter of your team and your own professional strengths and weaknesses. In my experience, the best leaders take great pride in continuous learning, completing regular 360-degree assessments, and spending time in training, coaching and mentoring as a means of learning the practical approach to leading a team.

Effective leaders also have great savvy about their agency's goals, operations and power centers. They not only understand, but can also effectively explain the unwritten rules--the code of conduct that dictates how work really gets done in their agency. They keep their ear to the ground to understand their senior leaders' priorities and don't operate in a stovepipe, but rather across agency boundaries.

Credible leaders also know who to call upon to answer a question or solve a problem. Moving around in your career every two to three years can help you establish a much broader network than those who remain in the same agency or office for an entire career.

Finally, consider finding a mentor, or mentors, who can help you with each of these areas. Find those folks within your agency who you admire, ask them out for coffee and let the relationship develop naturally over time. If you follow-through, I suspect that you will have a network of mentors in no time.

What tips do you have for avoiding burnout and surviving as a federal manager over the long-term? - Federal manager (GS-15), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Federal managers' workdays are often filled with essential meetings with internal teams and external stakeholders, solving the daily crises that emerge, finding solutions to serious problems and working on issues that directly affect the American public. With so many competing interests, it can be difficult for managers to sustain such heroic efforts indefinitely.

Based on my experience working with federal leaders, here are a few ideas to help you and other managers avoid being burned out by the demands of leadership.

First, it's important that you understand how you're wired. Do you find yourself satisfied--rather than exhausted--after a long day? Do you need to balance periods of intense work with periods of intense relaxation? Reflect on the days or weeks when you have felt on top of your game, and then work to recreate that experience as a starting point for avoiding burnout.

Next, work on drawing some boundaries between your work and personal life. To be an effective leader, you need to take time to recharge your batteries. This can be spending time with your family on the evenings and weekends, going out with friends or simply reading a good book. However you choose to recharge, you're the only one who can set aside that time and commit to fulfilling your personal as well as your professional goals.

And when you tend to your personal life, do so completely. For me, checking email on vacation equals no vacation at all. Whether it's a vacation, dinner with friends or working out, it's best to put the smart phone away and find another time to check your email.

Finally, don't forget to celebrate small successes with your team along with the way. This feeling of progress will help you as you strive towards your long-term goals.

I hope that these ideas may provide a helpful starting point, and I would welcome additional suggestions for how federal managers can avoid burnout.

By Tom Fox

 |  February 25, 2011; 10:24 AM ET |  Category:  Ask the Federal Coach Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: What fed workers can learn from Lincoln: An interview with Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer | Next: Four leadership lessons from American Idol

Comments

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Idiotic, sweeping generalizations from uninformed armchair quarterbacks are a hallmark of pretty much any "Comments" section on any newspaper website - but still it never ceases to amaze me how closed-minded and just downright ignorant(not to mention mean-spirited) some posters can be.

There are Federal Managers running Nuclear Programs, managing Billion-dollar budgets, Coordinating scientific research, managing law enforcement and Homeland Security investigations, and running operations with tens of thousands of employees. There are Federal Managers who are lawyers, PhDs, and MBAs, and those who come from the private sector to serve their country. There are Federal Managers who work 12 hour days, weekends, and who are monitoring their blackberries 24/7 to keep up with the volume of work that they are responsible for.

Are there those who have cushy jobs? Yes, perhaps a few, but there are also some on Wall Street and private companies who have cushy jobs. Are there those who have stress-free jobs? Maybe, but I guarantee you that those that do are not supervisors.

Comments like the below insult and demean the hard work and talent of the 85% of Federal Managers who are dedicated, hard-working, hard-charging individuals doing all they can to keep running all the things you take for granted, like food safety, keeping airplanes in the air, assuring educational standards and fair housing, and keeping your roads and resources from shutting down.

I only wish you could get your fantasy fulfilled and be forced to exist without all the work these people do for you. You'd be left dangling on your own, without energy, law enforcement, antiterrorism efforts, a safe and healthy foodstream, nothing for your retirement, and be forced to fend for yourself against unregulated corporations who can then do anything they want to assure their own profit without worrying about the likes of your safety and well-being.

If you can't see that you actually are getting the benefits of some very difficult work, you don't really deserve any of the many services you willingly and knowingly take.

> Most federal managers could not even
> qualify for a job as assistant manager
> at Burger King on the night shift.
>
> Posted by: BrRandall | February 26, 2011
> 10:04 AM

> Burnout?!? Oh please, there is nothing
> easier than a government job....
>
> Posted by: Sensei3 | February 25, 2011
> 4:50 PM

Posted by: PerfectlyCromulent64 | February 28, 2011 10:57 AM

>Look at how Great Britain has already
>addressed their problems by teamwork
>between Conservative and Liberal. Can you
>imagine that happening here?

"Cooperation" meaning pro-business austerity measures? The British economy has started shrinking rapidly as a result of the same policies the GOP advocates.

Posted by: BurfordHolly | February 26, 2011 4:33 PM

The Pareto Principle applies to all large groups of people: 20% create 80% of the value. I have worked in and out of government for almost 40 years and I have found wonderful and horrible people on both sides of the fence. Those who make prejudiced comments do so out of either unrealistic expectations or ignorance.

Divide and conquer is the strategy of BOTH political parties. And that approach has created the paralysis which derails critical thought and problem solving. Our system is so broken that the very skills needed to win an election are mutually exclusive with those required to do the job to which they just were elected.

At some point in time we will stop name calling and bathing in antipathy or we will decay more than we have already. It is not the other guy's fault, it is everyone's responsibility.

Look at how Great Britain has already addressed their problems by teamwork between Conservative and Liberal. Can you imagine that happening here? If the answer is no, then get your cans of tuna fish and bottles of water and head for the hills.

Posted by: MarylandIsDying | February 26, 2011 4:27 PM

>Burnout?!? Oh please, there is nothing
> easier than a government job....

Most people could not handle being stuck in the same pigeonhole for 25 years with no chance for promotion. You can only go so far in the federal system.

Posted by: BurfordHolly | February 26, 2011 11:09 AM

Most federal managers could not even qualify for a job as assistant manager at Burger King on the night shift.

Posted by: BrRandall | February 26, 2011 10:04 AM

Burnout?!? Oh please, there is nothing easier than a government job....

Posted by: Sensei3 | February 25, 2011 4:50 PM

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