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The Federal Coach

Archive: View from the Top

Advancing public-private innovation: Talking with the Rockefeller Foundation's Judith Rodin

We've also seen federal agencies starting to take up process innovation, whether it's crowd-sourcing or design thinking. Your thinking is transformed by opening the search for good ideas to a much broader group.

By Tom Fox | March 9, 2011; 11:22 AM ET | Comments (2)

How government can innovate: Lessons from Fred Dust of IDEO

Everyone keeps saying, "We have two years," or, "We have twelve months left." It's really interesting in the private sector, because we would typically look at deadlines and the need to move quickly as a great motivator for innovation. But is that actually a good thing in government?

By Tom Fox | March 2, 2011; 07:35 PM ET | Comments (17)

What fed workers can learn from Lincoln: An interview with Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer

The one piece of advice that he might give the president is to get out often and see them. Lincoln had a big impact on people when he went out among them.

By Tom Fox | February 23, 2011; 11:12 AM ET | Comments (4)

From innovation to Monty Python: An interview with the U.S. Postal Service's inspector general

I don't believe that people sitting alone will come up with great thoughts. Staying in your office is probably the worst [way] for coming up with a fresh solution. I would advise people to talk to everybody, particularly people that are frustrated. You can't flee from concerned stakeholders; they're the best allies for coming up with innovative ideas.

By Tom Fox | February 16, 2011; 09:39 AM ET | Comments (12)

'Warm but tough': Nannerl Keohane on what makes a good leader

Many of the women leaders that have been most successful have managed to direct people firmly but in a gracious and humorous way. It's the combination of being warm but tough. You have to make decisions and women have to do it as well as men, so you can't shy away from it. But on the other hand, and maybe even more for a woman than a man, it is important to do so in a way which is occasionally lightened by humor and seems as graceful as possible--even though you're being tough and doing things that people might not like.

By Tom Fox | February 9, 2011; 10:01 AM ET | Comments (2)

Setting goals: An interview with the head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation

I came here with absolutely nothing [when] I was 17 years old. And when you come by yourself, you develop self-confidence and begin to look at things differently. Even when times are extremely challenging, you have to be very confident and determined. You also learn that not only do you have to be determined, but also in order to succeed you have to show results.

By Tom Fox | February 2, 2011; 12:03 AM ET | Comments (0)

'I'm like a mayor of a medium-sized city': An interview with IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman

You need to focus on your employees, and now we have a comprehensive strategy to focus on management, employee development and employee engagement. As a leadership team, we have a core belief that we need to have engaged, motivated employees if we're going to serve taxpayers well.

By Tom Fox | January 25, 2011; 10:25 AM ET | Comments (2)

Running a 'hot bench': An interview with SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue

You can't do everything; you can't have 20 No. 1 priorities. It's almost as important to keep an eye on what you shouldn't be doing as what you are doing. If you eat up a lot of your valuable time on things that aren't that important, it keeps you from working on things that are truly important.

By Tom Fox | January 19, 2011; 10:02 AM ET | Comments (6)

Attracting a new generation to public service: Q&A with the head of Young Government Leaders

Federal managers need to stress what they can provide to young people. They can offer a lot of things that, quite frankly, corporations or Wall Street cannot. They can provide the opportunity for leadership early on in working on difficult social problems and protecting the nation.

By Tom Fox | January 5, 2011; 12:13 PM ET | Comments (7)

Federal coaching lessons: A Q&A with Felícita Solá-Carter

Be the best at what you do and give it 100 percent of your energy. New arrivals, whether young in age or simply new to public service, bring a fresh set of eyes and the ability to look at things from a different perspective. To succeed, take a bit of time to adjust to the culture of the organization. Seek a senior respected manager to help you learn the ropes and who the players are.

By Tom Fox | December 22, 2010; 10:24 AM ET | Comments (0)

Leading the Congressional Budget Office: An interview with Douglas Elmendorf

So much of what I know comes from people who over the past decades were generous enough to explain something to me. You can't force that generosity--they have to want to help you. I think curiosity and open-mindedness help. There are a lot of new ideas in the world--not all good ones, but some are--and if you aren't trying to soak up what you can, you'll miss something.

By Tom Fox | December 14, 2010; 04:57 PM ET | Comments (0)

Sen. Voinovich's parting thoughts

I've always said that government is one thread in the fabric of a community and that to be successful we need to galvanize all the assets in a community, state or nation.

By Tom Fox | December 8, 2010; 10:15 AM ET | Comments (8)

Breaking down 'administrator mystique': An interview with FEMA's Craig Fugate

I'm trying to break down the mystique that I'm an 'administrator.' I'm an emergency manager--that's what I do and that's how I approach the job. This is about the people we help; this isn't about me.

By Tom Fox | November 30, 2010; 06:03 PM ET | Comments (1)

Attracting scientists to public service: An interview with the head of NOAA

One of the biggest challenges is making sure that scientists are truly valued for the science that they do. Not just brought in as a scientist and then trained to be a manager. We need good scientists to be managers, but we need good scientists to also be rewarded and recognized for delivering world-class science. One of the best ways to recruit is to have an organization where a diversity of career paths is available for scientists.

By Tom Fox | November 24, 2010; 08:36 AM ET | Comments (0)

Donna Shalala's reflections on running HHS

You have to give people clear direction but not give them the answer. They have to know they can't end run to get to you that they have to work through the issues together. And they have to know that when they're under attack you're going to support them. You're not just going to protect yourself or the president. You're going to support them.

By Tom Fox | November 17, 2010; 09:45 AM ET | Comments (1)

Talking with NIH's 'renaissance scientist'

Search a long time and identify a critical dream to address what is really important to humans. Not some esoteric issue. Develop innovative ways within this dream and collaborate with others.

By Tom Fox | November 9, 2010; 11:08 PM ET | Comments (5)

Talking leadership with the Small Business Administration's Karen Mills

I grew up in a family business, and we would talk about business around the kitchen table. My grandfather came to this country as an immigrant without resources and built a business over a number of years, and he used to tell me that this was the most important thing in America and it was the most important thing for me to do. That spirit is the same one that I see in the business owners that I meet every day all over the country.

By Tom Fox | November 3, 2010; 12:01 AM ET | Comments (2)

Leadership from 30,000 feet

A leader certainly has to pilot the direction, but it's got to be a direction that's seen and absorbed by having everybody on board.

By Tom Fox | October 27, 2010; 12:01 AM ET | Comments (0)

Don't forget why you came to Washington

Young people need to understand that what they lack in wisdom the world needs in passion. But it's not an either or proposition. The world also needs them to be wiser than their years. [So,] find something you're passionate about, because if you don't, you will fail.

By Tom Fox | October 19, 2010; 05:33 PM ET | Comments (3)

Sheila Bair on leading the FDIC

If you look at other government agencies that have high morale, they have a clearly defined mission. The leadership at those agencies has to ensure that people stay focused on the mission and help them understand how their individual jobs relate to the mission.

By Tom Fox | October 8, 2010; 12:47 PM ET | Comments (0)

Talking with the Smithsonian's maestro

We want the Smithsonian to be the type of place where the word fun shows up. We are a place where people can find that outlet for public service. Public service appeals to people at different stages of their life. We want them when they think it's the right time whether they are young or just young at heart.

By Tom Fox | October 5, 2010; 12:03 PM ET | Comments (0)

Building momentum for national service

I find that young people today are very practical. They're always focused on the plan--the next step. It's great they are so practical, but I always advise young people to find their passion and really stick with it.

By Tom Fox | September 28, 2010; 05:30 PM ET | Comments (0)

Leading in a crisis: Lessons from Haiti

Prepare as much as you can and have all the meetings and committees set up. But in the end, there will be chaos and controlling the chaos is what will save the day. If you can't control the chaos, then you will have total disarray.

By Tom Fox | September 21, 2010; 04:19 PM ET | Comments (0)

Leadership lessons from 'the best place to work in federal government'

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?".

By Tom Fox | September 14, 2010; 12:12 PM ET | Comments (5)

Learning to 'check your ego and really listen'

Personal success, especially in jobs when you're dealing with people, requires a lot of self-awareness, discipline, strong interpersonal skills, a good degree of resiliency, integrity and then always a positive outlook.

By Tom Fox | September 7, 2010; 11:42 AM ET | Comments (1)

Learning to 'be a risk-taker'

Be a risk taker. Raise your hand and volunteer. Take on a challenge, be the first one in and look for new, innovative ways to do things. When I decided to join the Peace Corps, it was the biggest risk I'd ever taken in life.

By Tom Fox | August 31, 2010; 05:25 PM ET | Comments (0)

Balancing protection and access at the Pentagon

The key to dealing with such a broad range of communication tools is to remember there is room for all of them to engage. One of the life lessons that I have learned is to try to understand and play to people's strengths.

By Tom Fox | August 24, 2010; 11:34 AM ET | Comments (1)

'Capitalizing on your aces'

Understand your strengths and weaknesses. However, spend more time building on your strengths rather than correcting for your weaknesses. It's like a card game. You win by knowing how to capitalize on your aces.

By Tom Fox | August 17, 2010; 01:23 PM ET | Comments (0)

Teaching humility and service at the Kennedy School

There's one other thing that's hard to teach, but I preach it a lot. That is, in the end, have some humility. It can be difficult -- Washington and Harvard are not known for their humility. But the best public servants remember that they serve the public and that requires a capacity to listen and believe that there are a range of ideas out there that you've got to hear.

By Tom Fox | August 10, 2010; 11:27 AM ET | Comments (6)

Strategic leadership and learning to 'fail forward'

As a leader, it's very important to have a real clear eye about risk and to be very intentional and transparent about it. I think we need to learn to fail. I have a little saying -- fail forward, fail fast and fail fruitfully, because you never learn or innovate if you always do it right.

By Tom Fox | August 3, 2010; 05:15 PM ET | Comments (0)

Senior Executive Service: Coaching through the 'fragile year'

'The idea that you just take someone from the GS 14, 15 and throw them into [a senior executive] job, I think, from my perspective coming from private industry, is a huge jump,' says Patricia Adams, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for civilian human resources.

By Tom Fox | July 28, 2010; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (1)

Immigration Services head: From Havana to Washington D.C.

'What is motivating about working at USCIS is the mission that we have -- to fundamentally protect the dreams of people who come to this country in the hope of a better life,' says Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

By Tom Fox | July 21, 2010; 06:02 AM ET | Comments (22)

Joe Ferrara: Get yourself in the room

'It's not just about raising your hand and volunteering for an opportunity. You need to demonstrate the intangible characteristics of an effective executive: be a good communicator, handle pressure, have good judgment, stay pretty even keel,' says Joe Ferrara, now associate dean of Georgetown's Public Policy Institute.

By Tom Fox | July 14, 2010; 06:30 AM ET | Comments (0)

Senator Kaufman: 'Your word is your bond'

It's bothered me for the last 30 years that some people felt like they could denigrate federal employees. In the federal government, we have so many incredible superstars. They're there because they want to make a difference.

By Tom Fox | July 6, 2010; 12:33 PM ET | Comments (2)

Dave McClure: Nine lives of a gov 2.0 leader

'I was focused on trying to do things that would work or help make government operate better and for me that's what created the leadership opportunities.'

By Tom Fox | June 30, 2010; 07:47 AM ET | Comments (1)

Hilda Solis: 'I like to ask questions'

Any member of my staff will tell you that I like to ask questions. I want to know what they think and why they've come to that conclusion--what's motivating that answer? What is their rationale? Meetings with me are never boring!

By Tom Fox | June 23, 2010; 06:26 AM ET | Comments (4)

'Larry, keep your eye on the ball'

Lawrence Spinelli, acting president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), on not checking his Blackberry during meetings and taking time to exercise and think. 'Every initiative that I've launched at OPIC has come to me while I was riding my bicycle.'

By Tom Fox | June 16, 2010; 10:37 AM ET | Comments (0)

Norm Mineta: Arm-wrestling with Tom DeLay

'I never let it get to my head that I was running a department of 62,000 people with a $62 billion-dollar budget. You have to listen to the professionals who are doing the work,' says Norman Mineta, former secretary of transportation.

By Tom Fox | June 9, 2010; 10:31 AM ET | Comments (1)

When accidents happen, fed workers emerge from anonymity

'Our agency comes into a community often during the worst crisis they have faced in a generation,' says Deborah Hersman, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board. 'During accident investigations, the public gets a glimpse into what we do.'

By Tom Fox | June 2, 2010; 06:36 AM ET | Comments (1)

Why fed workers need more autonomy

Bestselling author Daniel Pink says, 'Understand that management leads to compliance, but self direction leads to engagement. It's a very difficult thing to do in the federal workforce, which is not known for its radical amount of autonomy.'

By Tom Fox | May 26, 2010; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (8)

Keeping track of 10 billion things

The country's Archivist, David Ferriero, on why his training as a psychiatric technician helps him run archive offices from Anchorage to Atlanta.

By Tom Fox | May 19, 2010; 06:19 AM ET | Comments (0)

'Nobody is a prisoner to change'

'Nobody's a prisoner to change. You have three choices: you can fight it and fail, you can accept it and survive or you can lead it and prosper,' says Charlene Frizzera of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

By Tom Fox | May 12, 2010; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (1)

Housing and Urban Development's 'malignant optimist'

'In the public sector, you have more variables, more people at the table, more scrutiny and, intellectually, I think it's more challenging,' says Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

By Tom Fox | May 3, 2010; 04:45 PM ET | Comments (0)

'You don't always have to be the person with the answer'

If you want to do something, you need to say it. You can't sit behind your desk and expect people to know that you want opportunities.

By Tom Fox | April 26, 2010; 05:29 PM ET | Comments (2)

Make a clear statement: 'We are listening'

You have to make a clear statement that, 'We are listening, we're open and we want your contributions.'

By Tom Fox | April 19, 2010; 03:24 PM ET | Comments (3)

A goal that's bigger than 'who you are'

'I think as a parent you want your kids to believe in something that's bigger than who they are,' says Margot Rogers, chief of staff for Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

By Tom Fox | April 12, 2010; 03:42 PM ET | Comments (1)

A 'cheerleader, coach and referee' at Treasury

Says Treasury Department's Daniel Tangherlini: 'My job is to try to find the right team, invest in that team and give them support so that they can be successful.'

By Tom Fox | April 7, 2010; 05:27 AM ET | Comments (3)

Chief Performance Officer Jeff Zients on his 'calendar test'

"Leaders motivate either through command-and-control from the top or by broad engagement. We're aspiring to find a third tack, one that focuses on the really big things, but does so by tapping into the desire for collaboration."

By Tom Fox | March 31, 2010; 05:48 AM ET | Comments (0)

From New Orleans' Ninth Ward to Washington's EPA

"The workforce at EPA is competent, qualified and they want to work as one organization. What they really need from their management is clear direction and goals."

By Tom Fox | March 24, 2010; 05:31 AM ET | Comments (1)

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