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The Federal Coach

Archive: Getting Ahead

Managing stress amid the budget-cutting uncertainty

While the White House and Congress work on a compromise to fund the government for the rest of the year, many federal programs will continue to be kicked around like political footballs, leaving your employees uncertain about the road ahead.

By Tom Fox | March 7, 2011; 12:41 PM ET | Comments (1)

Four leadership lessons from American Idol

Now that the top 24 finalists have been selected, the judges must have honest, direct and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about whether contestants are likely to achieve their hopes and dreams. For many federal leaders, these are just the type of conversations that they try to avoid at all costs.

By Tom Fox | February 28, 2011; 12:00 AM ET | Comments (2)

Preparing your agency for big cuts ahead

Agencies have well-developed rumor mills, and I've heard from many federal employees that the anxiety and frustrations associated with the budget uncertainties is high. While water cooler gossip is inevitable, as a federal manager you can try and minimize this by being the primary source of accurate information.

By Tom Fox | February 18, 2011; 05:48 PM ET | Comments (1)

'Managing up' in your agency

There are as many ways to manage up as there are leaders in our government.

By Tom Fox | February 14, 2011; 08:49 AM ET | Comments (3)

The political appointee merry go 'round

I hear from some federal managers that this 18 to 24 month ritual, part of the natural cycle in Washington and the federal regions, can leave big voids in management for an undetermined amount of time and halt progress on important initiatives. Others say the departure of their political boss is a welcome relief and they are glad to see them walk out the door. Either way, I encourage you to prepare in case you need to face another round of familiarizing new appointees with life at your agency.

By Tom Fox | February 7, 2011; 09:43 AM ET | Comments (4)

Spurring innovation in your government agency

As a federal manager, there's a great deal you can do now within your agencies and offices to spur innovation and deliver better results for the American people.

By Tom Fox | January 31, 2011; 12:02 AM ET | Comments (0)

Keeping employees during the federal ice age

Federal managers are facing what some have called the "ice age," the era of pay and hiring freezes that could have a significant effect on the government workforce. Like many federal managers, I was in Washington during the last "ice age" and its affects were detrimental. Another hiring freeze would likely leave critical positions unfilled, result in increased staff workload, a loss of institutional knowledge and make it more difficult to accomplish agency missions.

By Tom Fox | January 24, 2011; 08:35 AM ET | Comments (19)

Tucson tragedy: Managing safety concerns of your federal workforce

The tragedy in Tucson has captured the nation's attention and increased the anxiety of some federal employees--everywhere from the Internal Revenue Service to the U.S. Postal Service--that they too may face the threat of violence simply by doing their jobs.

By Tom Fox | January 17, 2011; 12:11 PM ET | Comments (0)

Four rookie mistakes for the federal manager to avoid

With the NFL playoffs now underway, the annual firing and hiring of coaches has begun. The Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings were the first teams to make a decision by promoting first-time head coaches to lead their teams. With the start of the new year, there are a lot federal leaders who've recently been promoted to be first-time supervisors or managers. Like the new NFL rookie coaches, each of these new managers will likely make their own "rookie" missteps over time. That's how they'll learn and grow to become great leaders.

By Tom Fox | January 10, 2011; 12:25 PM ET | Comments (21)

New Year's resolutions for the federal manager

'Tis the season to set some New Year's resolutions. Like many of you, I usually focus my resolutions around traditional topics like losing weight, getting fit, spending more time with family or helping others. No one can argue with those, but this year why not consider adding some management goals to your 2011 resolutions. I've added some professional goals to my resolution's list, and I encourage you to do the same.

By Tom Fox | January 3, 2011; 09:27 AM ET | Comments (3)

Top 10 books for federal leaders in 2011

This time is the time of year when many publications produce their lists of the best books from 2010. I'm going to embrace the concept of a list and share with you my favorite five leadership books from 2010 as well as five classics. Each book is an easy read and includes actionable ideas for federal leaders looking to navigate the ambiguity and challenges that lie ahead.

By Tom Fox | December 20, 2010; 10:14 AM ET | Comments (10)

How do you measure up as a federal leader?

We're often not very good at judging our own abilities. Think about the actors taking to the ice on Skating with the Stars who benefit from Johnny Weir's candid opinion, or even the chefs on Top Chef needing Tom Colicchio's feedback. More often than not, the feedback helps them improve their performance the following week. As a federal manager, you also need feedback to help you know if you're leading your team successfully. Thankfully, your feedback doesn't have to come from a panel of reality TV judges.

By Tom Fox | December 13, 2010; 10:17 AM ET | Comments (1)

How to 'lead from the middle' when spending cuts hit your agency

Leading from the middle isn't all that different from leading at the top. You simply have a different title and a different kind of work space.

By Tom Fox | December 6, 2010; 11:13 AM ET | Comments (1)

Finding your own public-service role model

Whether we are five or 55, we all need leadership role models. They can be historical figures, present day leaders, colleagues, mentors, friends or family members who through their example inspire and develop you as a leader.

By Tom Fox | November 29, 2010; 01:14 PM ET | Comments (0)

Making a long-distance relationship work: When feds go remote

Leading virtual teams is similar to a long-distance relationship--it can be difficult, but entirely possible if you're committed to making things work.

By Tom Fox | November 22, 2010; 12:01 AM ET | Comments (3)

Curbing attrition of talented federal workers

As a federal manager, you know that some turnover among staff is good. It can create space in your agency for new talent and skills, remove workers who are not performing well and provide promotion opportunities for highly capable but less senior employees. However, the last thing you want is for your high performers and employees with mission-critical skills to leave.

By Tom Fox | November 15, 2010; 11:26 AM ET | Comments (124)

Managing the fear of cutbacks among federal workers

The high decibel election season that came to a conclusion last week prompted a number of proposals to reduce the size and cost of government, with the federal workforce becoming a prime target for a hiring freeze, a pay freeze, furloughs or other possible cutbacks. With Republicans set to take control of the House of Representatives in January, many of these proposals will be on the legislative front-burner, and in time, some may become reality. This understandably is causing a great deal of anxiety and fear among federal workers, who can only watch and wait as the political drama plays out.

By Tom Fox | November 8, 2010; 08:37 AM ET | Comments (8)

Improving the hiring process for federal workers with disabilities

An estimated 54 million Americans are living with a disability. Although much progress has been made, individuals with disabilities are still underrepresented in the federal workplace--representing little more than five percent of the 2.5 million federal employees including the U.S. Postal Service.

By Tom Fox | October 25, 2010; 10:42 AM ET | Comments (0)

Finding a silver lining for federal workers

I'm mad, and I suspect you are too. Two new public opinion surveys were released last week about government that showed the public has a negative view of our government and lacks faith in its ability to deliver positive results.

By Tom Fox | October 18, 2010; 04:41 AM ET | Comments (12)

Want to get into the SES? Six insider tips

There is one question that federal managers consistently ask me: How do I become an SES?

By Tom Fox | October 8, 2010; 12:40 PM ET | Comments (14)

Teamwork in decline at federal agencies

Building teamwork is more than just trust falls and ropes courses. It's important that as a federal manager you create a shared vision, trust and cooperation to build high-performing teams and achieve your agency goals.

By Tom Fox | October 1, 2010; 10:30 AM ET | Comments (4)

Federal hiring: What the NFL can teach us

The cliché "actions speak louder than words" has never more been more apparent than in the start of this NFL season. From quarterback changes to impending trades, coaches are taking decisive actions to shake-up their teams and find the right ingredients for success. The same holds true around the federal government's efforts to reform the hiring process.

By Tom Fox | September 24, 2010; 02:42 PM ET | Comments (0)

Gen X and the long leadership wait

Despite popular perceptions about a generation of slackers, Gen-X government employees are hard-working and dedicated to their jobs and the mission of their agencies.However, many Gen-X public servants aren't seeing any leadership opportunities emerge, and they're ready to jump to the private and nonprofit sectors for their leadership moment.

By Tom Fox | September 17, 2010; 12:58 PM ET | Comments (1)

Gratitude doesn't have to be green

On a day-to-day basis, managers should also consider using a variety of informal means to recognize and motivate their employees. I encourage you to regularly let your employees know they are appreciated for their performance and contributions to your agency's mission.

By Tom Fox | September 10, 2010; 06:05 PM ET | Comments (1)

Taking stock of agency performance

Employee satisfaction and commitment are two necessary ingredients in developing high-performing organizations and attracting top talent.When workers are unhappy, it can be a sign of bad management, and a low level of engagement and poor performance often follow. For rankings that matter to federal leaders and employees, check out the latest Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings to be released on September 1- the most comprehensive assessment of how federal employees perceive their jobs, agencies and leadership.

By Tom Fox | August 27, 2010; 01:35 PM ET | Comments (0)

Three schoolyard lessons in peer leadership

Every Friday during the summer, my wife and I have a massive pizza party with our neighbors - it's as much for the adults as for the kids. Typically, I'm just getting home from work when the festivities begin, so my mind is not quite in weekend mode. As a result, I find myself analyzing the group dynamics among the dozen or so neighborhood kids playing together.

By Tom Fox | August 20, 2010; 01:29 PM ET | Comments (0)

Preventing your Steven Slater moment

Last week, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater had a very bad day at work when - after a conflict with a passenger - he activated the emergency evacuation chute, grabbed two beers, slid down the runway and headed home. While our bad days do not make the headlines, a lot of us have had conflicts with bosses that have made us want to activate our own emergency chute.

By Tom Fox | August 13, 2010; 05:12 PM ET | Comments (0)

Managing your young guns

The best leaders recognize that potential talent is nurtured by developing expertise, executive skills and solid judgment, along with providing constant feedback and opportunities for personal growth.

By Tom Fox | August 6, 2010; 03:57 PM ET | Comments (7)

Young government leaders: Lessons for the next generation

In all of its amazing success, it's easy to forget that Facebook is run by Mark Zuckerberg, a leader who is only 26 years old. Last week, the Washington Post's Leadership Playlist blog had a thought-provoking post on Zuckerberg's leadership. This analysis, along with a question I received from a friend, got me thinking about the challenges facing young federal leaders.

By Tom Fox | July 30, 2010; 03:23 PM ET | Comments (21)

High performers: How to manage your Stephen Strasburgs

Washington National's pitcher Stephen Strasburg may be a pitching phenom, but he's not an all-star yet. Here are four strategies to help you deliver effective and constructive feedback to the all-stars on your team.

By Tom Fox | July 26, 2010; 06:49 AM ET | Comments (1)

Be the bad guy: Negative feedback and how to deliver it

For many people, top fears include spiders, heights, public speaking and crowds. For many government managers I speak to, it's delivering criticism at performance time.

By Tom Fox | July 19, 2010; 06:48 AM ET | Comments (2)

Young gov leaders: Love them or lose them

The fact is we need to find ways to make young government leaders stay and grow in government. Here are five ideas for retaining your younger employees while grooming them to lead.

By Tom Fox | July 12, 2010; 06:52 AM ET | Comments (1)

Rethinking the workplace in the 21st century

Sometimes the sign of good leadership is an ability to see challenges as opportunities rather than roadblocks to success. Case in point: telework.

By Tom Fox | July 7, 2010; 05:12 PM ET | Comments (1)

Even Landon Donovan plays for the team

Secretly, we all want to be Landon Donovan. But the problem is, we can't all be the star. Here are three leadership habits to help your employees recognize the value of playing as a team.

By Tom Fox | June 28, 2010; 06:49 AM ET | Comments (5)

Federal hiring transparency: A workforce of Brownies?

A new study shows that 72 percent of federal employees surveyed believe that government promotions were based on favoritism more than competence. Here are three ways to make your hiring decisions more transparent.

By Tom Fox | June 21, 2010; 09:38 AM ET | Comments (10)

How to win Government's Got Talent

Reality-show contestants go all-out to make their mark on TV. Are you giving the same effort to your quest to become a senior government executive? Here are three strategies for getting ahead.

By Tom Fox | June 14, 2010; 05:59 AM ET | Comments (1)

Four leadership lessons from the oil-spill's Adm. Thad Allen

Leaders in crisis may have limited options -- many times "least bad" is the best option available to them. Here are four lessons gleaned from Adm. Thad Allen's leadership in the Gulf.

By Tom Fox | June 7, 2010; 09:10 AM ET | Comments (6)

The next oil spill: Jump out of your agency

Most aspiring government leaders treat their careers like the daily commute. You stay in one familiar agency and follow the same basic route every day.

By Tom Fox | May 28, 2010; 01:10 PM ET | Comments (1)

John Mayer's theme song for fed-hiring reform?

Remember John Mayer's song, 'Waiting on the world to change?' I'm worried that federal leaders may be taking this tune as their theme song when it comes to enacting government hiring reform.

By Tom Fox | May 21, 2010; 05:09 PM ET | Comments (2)

Federal hiring: Is the nightmare over?

A faster federal hiring process? Hurray! But the most important element of the new reform plan is the explicit recognition that hiring is a leadership responsibility, not just an HR task.

By Andrea Useem | May 17, 2010; 10:31 AM ET | Comments (15)

Are generational stereotypes real?

If I refer to the Jersey Shore, does your first thought go to a vacation spot or to someone named "Snooki?" Your answer may say a lot about your generation. Traditionalists or Baby Boomers are thinking of summertime memories, while Millennials are thinking about Snooki and her friends appearing on the MTV reality show. Right?

By Tom Fox | May 10, 2010; 06:05 AM ET | Comments (2)

Keeping LeBron James on your team

High-performers like LeBron James are not always looking for the big payday. They're looking for an opportunity to win. And federal employees, in particular, are looking for an opportunity to make a difference.

By Tom Fox | April 30, 2010; 03:53 PM ET | Comments (1)

When we don't trust government

We expect our government to take care of those things no other organization will -- fixing the economy, guarding our national security, assisting in recovery efforts. So each time an agency fails, our confidence in government erodes.

By Tom Fox | April 23, 2010; 04:35 PM ET | Comments (2)

Deadwood: The myth of poor performers

I've worked in all three sectors, and there's "deadwood" everywhere. What's different in government is often leaders don't know the rules about how to fire poor performers.

By Tom Fox | April 16, 2010; 03:03 PM ET | Comments (27)

When Michael Scott works for Uncle Sam

Despite the presence of outstanding leaders throughout our federal government, the bad ones have a disproportionate impact on government performance.

By Tom Fox | April 12, 2010; 05:53 AM ET | Comments (3)

Can you collaborate with a million people?

Public-sector collaboration is incredibly complicated given the scale, scope and mission of federal agencies. Here are three tips for leaders working across large, complex organizations.

By Tom Fox | April 5, 2010; 06:07 AM ET | Comments (0)

Take your shot at leadership

For years, Kobe Bryant was considered the best individual NBA basketball player, but it wasn't until he won a championship by strengthening his teammates that he was seen as a leader.

By Tom Fox | March 29, 2010; 05:31 AM ET | Comments (3)

What Steve Jobs can learn from public leaders

Why is it that we associate private-sector leaders with greatness - the folks who brought you the iPhone - and associate public-sector leaders with bungling bureaucracy? It is time to write a different script.

By Tom Fox | March 22, 2010; 05:30 AM ET | Comments (10)

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