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The Federal Coach

Archive: Ask the Federal Coach

The federal worker's guide to government shutdown

With the possibility of a government shutdown a week away, I continue to receive questions from federal employees about how it may affect them. As a result, I consulted my colleague and federal workforce expert, John Palguta, to come up with the answers to the questions that I hear most frequently.

By Tom Fox | March 11, 2011; 12:04 AM ET | Comments (2)

Fed Coach Q&A: Making the sales pitch for working in government

The agencies that experience the greatest success recruiting and hiring new employees are the ones that regularly visit college campuses, attend meetings of professional associations and other recruiting events.

By Tom Fox | March 4, 2011; 11:27 AM ET | Comments (3)

Avoiding federal manager burnout

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.

By Tom Fox | February 25, 2011; 10:24 AM ET | Comments (6)

Ask the FedCoach: Applying leadership concepts in the real world

To start, concentrate on mastering one new leadership behavior at a time. We only have so much capacity for change, and working on one area offers the greatest likelihood of success.

By Tom Fox | February 18, 2011; 12:35 PM ET | Comments (1)

Ask the FedCoach: The agency 'game of telephone'

Communicating indirectly among a large team can be reminiscent of the game of telephone. What begins as a clear, simple message can become garbled and confused by the time it reaches the final set of ears.

By Tom Fox | February 11, 2011; 09:35 AM ET | Comments (1)

Ask the FedCoach: A penny for your good work

I heard about one company that awarded pennies on the spot--managers would have a roll of shiny new pennies and present one immediately on seeing good work or help.

By Tom Fox | February 3, 2011; 05:59 PM ET | Comments (0)

FedCoach Q&A: What's the best way to reward federal employees?

Now is the perfect time to examine your agency's approach to recognizing and rewarding your employees. With public perceptions of federal employees on the decline (along with federal budgets), federal managers need to get back to basics and think creatively.

By Tom Fox | January 28, 2011; 10:10 AM ET | Comments (16)

Ask the FedCoach: Stuck between appointees and career leaders?

While it may be easy to paint your political appointee as the villain in this scenario, it's important to remember that with a very short window of opportunity to affect change, you appointee is likely eager to influence and move your agency as quickly as possible. In the process, he may simply overlook the long-term reporting structures in place.

By Tom Fox | January 21, 2011; 12:13 PM ET | Comments (4)

Leading in times of uncertainty: An interview with the FLRA's Carol Waller Pope

Your role as a leader is most important in times of uncertainty, as opposed to the successful times. When we were in a difficult period and I was invited to visit regional offices, I was concerned because I didn't have a good story to tell and possibly couldn't answer employees' questions. So I've looked to other government leaders and in my volunteer activity to help me learn how to be effective as a leader.

By Tom Fox | January 12, 2011; 10:38 AM ET | Comments (0)

Ask the FedCoach: Solving agency personnel issues

The fact is more than 11,000 federal employees were fired for performance or misconduct in fiscal year 2009. In addition, a survey of federal managers by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board suggests that besides those who are formally terminated, there is a sizable number of employees who voluntarily leave after they are counseled that their performance is unacceptable.

By Tom Fox | January 7, 2011; 12:04 PM ET | Comments (0)

Finding time as a fed worker for long-term planning

With the urgency of the present, scheduling time around long-term priorities may seem impossible, but in fact it's not. Start by looking ahead in your calendar to find a time when you are not already booked--perhaps a month in advance. Next, schedule an uninterrupted block of time, say, two to four hours, that you can devote to focusing on a long-term issue.

By Tom Fox | December 17, 2010; 09:17 AM ET | Comments (0)

"Servant leadership" within federal agencies

The idea is that servant leaders earn respect and authority by placing a priority on first helping others grow professionally and personally as a means of achieving organizational goals. Servant leaders are typically great listeners, with high degrees of empathy for their people. They view their role as organizational stewards responsible for building individuals and organizations for the long term.

By Tom Fox | December 10, 2010; 12:01 AM ET | Comments (1)

Affecting change in your federal agency

Affecting change in any large organization is difficult--whether there's one predominant leadership style, you're feeling limited by your position, or you're having difficulty finding allies in your efforts.

By Tom Fox | December 3, 2010; 12:00 AM ET | Comments (9)

Motivating overworked federal employees

When you need to motivate an over-worked team and your tools and resources are limited, I believe honesty, creativity and recognition are your best bets.

By Tom Fox | November 26, 2010; 10:20 AM ET | Comments (2)

Fed workers weigh in on the retention problem

What will you do to make things better? Starting today in your office, agency, etc. you have permission to fix it. As a retired fed (42.5 years); a former union president, scientist, and innovator I have heard and seen it all. There is only one solution: "Do something to make things better."

By Tom Fox | November 18, 2010; 05:10 PM ET | Comments (3)

Q&A: The truth about federal furlough

History suggests that a federal furlough is unlikely, but even if history is wrong, federal leaders would have advanced notice to plan.

By Tom Fox | November 12, 2010; 08:37 AM ET | Comments (0)

Tips for excelling as a federal leader

Too often in government - in any organization, really - we focus more on what makes us unique rather than on our similarities. However, it's a good idea to examine the traits that make federal employees successful across agencies and professions. Here are the leadership traits and abilities that consistently surface in our leadership programs:

By Tom Fox | November 5, 2010; 09:36 AM ET | Comments (2)

Sexual harassment and the federal workplace

Sexual harassment has been back in the news with allegations of inappropriate advances by quarterback Brett Farve toward a female New York Jets employee, and with the reprise of accusations made long ago against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. While these cases have made headlines, sexual harassment remains a fact of everyday life and a problem in the government workplace. According to a recently retired federal government executive, sexual harassment cases are significantly under reported.

By Tom Fox | November 1, 2010; 10:21 AM ET | Comments (28)

Dealing with new political appointees in your agencies

As a starting point, consider the political appointee's perspective. They're often new to an agency and unfamiliar with how to navigate the agency's ins and outs, and their senior officials are asking them to get things done quickly, before the next election. As a result, I suspect many of these political appointees feel a little betwixt and between top officials and career public servants.

By Tom Fox | October 29, 2010; 12:01 AM ET | Comments (4)

Fed workers weigh in on negative perceptions

This week I wanted to share some of your insightful comments around the negative perceptions of federal employees as well as your tips for how federal managers can become an SES.

By Tom Fox | October 22, 2010; 10:50 AM ET | Comments (13)

Making 'telework' work for federal employees

Here are two questions that I received on telework this week. Telework is incredibly popular these days given the potential work-life benefits to individuals and the operational benefits to federal agencies.

By Tom Fox | October 14, 2010; 02:46 PM ET | Comments (3)

The right way to reward federal employees

It's important that you support and reward your high performers. But as a leader, you also need to consider team dynamics and the impact these rewards will have on others.

By Tom Fox | October 7, 2010; 02:08 PM ET | Comments (19)

Alternative work schedules and cross-agency idea sharing

Here's what will be key to your conversation. The regulations give agency leaders broad leeway to establish or terminate employees' alternative work schedules based on their impact on three criteria: (1) an agency's productivity; (2) the level of services furnished to the public; and (3) the cost of agency operations.

By Tom Fox | September 30, 2010; 03:52 PM ET | Comments (2)

Fed up with federal leaders in your agency?

In my conversations with federal managers, I hear that many of them are also struggling to find an answer to how they can best balance the tyranny of the urgent with long-term planning. To help set them on the right course, I consulted a top Washington, D.C. professional scheduler for advice.

By Tom Fox | September 23, 2010; 04:58 PM ET | Comments (1)

Guiding your staff through a reorganization

While we often assume mentoring is pairing an experienced sage with an inexperienced newbie, the use of peer mentoring has been taking root in organizations ranging from business consulting to law enforcement to nonprofits.

By Tom Fox | September 16, 2010; 06:18 PM ET | Comments (0)

Building consensus without watering down results

Our government will never succeed in overcoming the many challenges that we face if federal leaders consistently select the options that ruffle the fewest feathers. Finding solutions to these challenges requires multiple agencies to work together. Although, there is not one answer to effectively working with your colleagues, there are some general principles that can help guide your approach.

By Tom Fox | September 9, 2010; 04:15 PM ET | Comments (0)

Beach reads: From Dr. Seuss to Nelson Mandela

With Labor Day ahead of us and many folks heading out of town, I thought it would be the perfect time to share the leadership books recommended by some of the federal leaders I've recently interviewed. Here is a broad and interesting selection of books from federal leaders.

By Tom Fox | September 2, 2010; 03:51 PM ET | Comments (1)

Showing your team you've 'got their back'

Awards - cash or time-off - tend to be the standard way for rewarding federal employees. Although recipients are grateful for these awards, I hear too that employees appreciate recognition that has more of a personal touch.

By Tom Fox | August 26, 2010; 03:09 PM ET | Comments (0)

Making the case for new technology

Reactions to Gov 2.0 fall into one of two extreme perspectives: it's the wave of the future or it's the beginning of the end. The fact is, the future is here. Of course, you already know that. You just need some help making the case.

By Tom Fox | August 19, 2010; 11:47 AM ET | Comments (0)

Managing up vs. managing around

Managing up is difficult, but managing around is dangerous. Your manager may be indecisive, or you may have not yet found the best way to support his decision-making. I suggest a direct conversation with your manager about the problem to develop shared solutions for moving forward.

By Tom Fox | August 12, 2010; 02:20 PM ET | Comments (0)

Delegating authority: Learn to let go

Depending on your manager's approach and style, there are several steps you can take to positively address the issues around workplace trust, decision-making, efficiency and morale.

By Tom Fox | August 5, 2010; 05:06 PM ET | Comments (0)

Help! A subordinate is undermining my authority

With an employee who is undercutting your role as a leader, you need to have an uncomfortable discussion. Find out what is motivating their behavior. Are they trying to be funny? Are they gossips? Do they not respect you?

By Tom Fox | July 30, 2010; 05:30 AM ET | Comments (7)

Who's the right leader for right now?

In reality, the most important leadership skills vary by position. Some agencies require crisis leadership - someone who can steer the agency through difficult times. Other agencies may look for a steward - someone who can keep the agency running smoothly.

By Tom Fox | July 23, 2010; 07:09 AM ET | Comments (1)

What next-gen gov leaders want you to know

'Instead of being threatened by us, older leaders should take advantage of our young, ambitious blood starving to learn and TEACH US. Put me in, Coach, I can play!'

By Tom Fox | July 16, 2010; 06:50 AM ET | Comments (1)

Walking in another's shoes

Diplomatically help your younger boss become better. Before doing anything, do some soul-searching to consider whether you and your supervisor simply have stylistic differences.

By Tom Fox | July 8, 2010; 04:23 PM ET | Comments (0)

High turnover: When everyone is jumping ship

There's nothing easy about motivating your employees. Understanding and tending to their motivations requires almost constant care and attention.

By Tom Fox | July 2, 2010; 06:38 AM ET | Comments (7)

Should I tell my employees I want to leave?

Here's a sticky situation: A popular federal manager (GS-15) is looking for a new job. Does the leader have an ethical obligation to tell employees, even if it means those employees might leave too? Read our advice and offer your own.

By Tom Fox | June 24, 2010; 02:16 PM ET | Comments (2)

Career paths from state to federal

With most - if not all - of our country's biggest challenges requiring coordination among the various levels of government, experienced state executives would be an incredible asset in federal positions.

By Tom Fox | June 17, 2010; 05:33 PM ET | Comments (0)

Marking the finish line

Whether you're measuring a safer country, a cleaner environment or a stronger economy, you have a much more difficult task defining success than in the private sector.

By Tom Fox | June 11, 2010; 11:20 AM ET | Comments (1)

The first rule of mentoring

The first rule of mentoring is, you do not talk about mentoring. Most people who look for mentors make the mistake of asking someone to be their "mentor." It scares people off. It's like asking someone to marry you on a first date.

By Tom Fox | June 3, 2010; 05:26 PM ET | Comments (2)

Talking with your world-wide workforce

Moving forward, I would like to see more career leaders use social media to connect with their folks more effectively, and retired Coast Guard commandant has helped pave this road.

By Tom Fox | May 28, 2010; 02:01 AM ET | Comments (0)

Uneven success in federal hiring

The majority of comments I received this week consisted of stories about not hearing back about an application for a year or not hearing at all. Frankly, that's just rude, and we should expect more from our federal hiring process.

By Tom Fox | May 21, 2010; 06:22 AM ET | Comments (5)

Unhappy? Find your voice and start local

If you're a mid-level leader or front-line employee, you might feel that you don't have a voice. But that doesn't have to be true. You just need to find a way to be heard.

By Tom Fox | May 13, 2010; 04:11 PM ET | Comments (0)

What do leaders owe their agencies?

Those who complete leadership development programs should feel empowered to stop looking to others and instead provide the leadership themselves.

By Tom Fox | May 6, 2010; 06:06 PM ET | Comments (1)

Now I'm the boss -- help!

I'm consistently disappointed that federal agencies do not invest more time -- if not resources -- in preparing new supervisors for their increased responsibilities and supporting their transition into the role.

By Tom Fox | April 29, 2010; 06:06 PM ET | Comments (1)

Deadwood, the sequel: More on the problem of poor performance

In response to Monday's 'deadwood' column, some readers said government leaders don't deal with poor performers because the system is too hard to navigate. I agree it's not easy, but leaders committed to the process and determined to take action can succeed.

By Tom Fox | April 22, 2010; 05:52 PM ET | Comments (25)

Manage up without kissing up

Managing up is understanding your supervisor's priorities and work-style preferences, alerting them early to things that need their attention to avert problems, and soliciting their input early in projects so they don't get off track.

By Tom Fox | April 15, 2010; 05:55 PM ET | Comments (0)

Jumping from private sector to public service

Writes one reader: 'Why does it feel like the federal government discourages private sector folks from applying to jobs in the public sector? I have 15 years of private sector experience that could come in handy, but I don't know how to engage.'

By Tom Fox | April 9, 2010; 06:59 AM ET | Comments (3)

Seniority-based promotions a major frustration

Q: Management positions in my agency are strictly attained based on seniority, and employees -- both those new to the workforce and those with private sector experience -- generally become apathetic or angry. What can I do?

By Tom Fox | April 2, 2010; 06:26 AM ET | Comments (2)

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