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Archive: Federal government leadership

Bigger bonuses for departing Hill staffers

It's a little shortsighted to believe there shouldn't be some kind of extra payment to staffers who are suddenly out of a job because their boss didn't win. Maybe that's a risk everyone is willing to take in Washington. But companies wouldn't be able to attract the best and brightest to come work for them if they were known for kicking people out on the street without a shred of severance when the going gets rough.

By Jena McGregor | March 8, 2011; 11:05 AM ET | Comments (66)

Thune: What good is a Senate record?

Whether we agree or not with a senator's extended decision-making record, at least he or she has one we can turn to to decide what they might do in the future. We may disagree with some of our potential presidents' past decisions, but at some point, I'd hope a track record of effective legislation creation and wise decision-making might outweigh those differences.

By Jena McGregor | February 23, 2011; 09:34 AM ET | Comments (9)

Think you can balance the budget?

By putting constituents in her shoes, Purdue is helping them to see that on the heels of a massive recession that has pushed state governments to the breaking point, there are no easy choices. Helping people realize how difficult it is to decide whether to cut spending in education, public safety or social services could help elicit a more cooperative and civil discussion about what to do.

By Jena McGregor | February 17, 2011; 10:23 AM ET | Comments (30)

Boehner's 'so be it' leadership

The president may not be winning any leadership medals for his budget dealings, but the opposition's leader isn't either.

By Jena McGregor | February 16, 2011; 01:08 PM ET | Comments (138)

The weight of Panetta's words

Panetta was right about one thing in his committee testimony. Even the best intelligence can't get you inside another leader's mind. "Our biggest problem is always: How do we get into the head of somebody?" he told members of Congress. Likewise, we won't know what it was in Panetta's head--excitement that a change could be coming, cold hard intelligence that turned out to be wrong or mere reiteration of media reports, as his aides say--that prompted him to make a statement that instantly set up expectations around the world.

By Jena McGregor | February 11, 2011; 10:10 AM ET | Comments (35)

If business should invest during tough times, why not government?

The concept of investing for the future during tough times is one of the most fundamental ideas in business--or leadership, for that matter. Just as CEOs who cut off spending in R&D and employee training during a recession will find themselves slipping against competitors when things turn up again, a country that doesn't invest in education, innovation and infrastructure is likely to quickly fall behind its peers.

By Jena McGregor | January 27, 2011; 08:37 AM ET | Comments (10)

Health care 'repeal and replace': Wrong order?

Whatever you may think of the health care reform law--and even many supporters lament that it is flawed--it's a start to a deeply problematic systemic issue our country must face one way or another. Most would agree it needs amending in some fashion. And perhaps it's problematic enough that an entirely new piece of legislation would make sense. But leaders who want to improve upon it would do better to suggest alternatives first, and then work to overturn the problems later.

By Jena McGregor | January 20, 2011; 09:09 AM ET | Comments (53)

The 'dish' Boehner will miss

A leader at Boehner's level should actually want to take every opportunity to present a unified front to other countries--no matter how much we may disagree with some of their practices and policies--and to improve relations with someone who leads a country fast becoming this nation's largest global rival. Yes, Boehner is meeting with President Jintao later this week. But a social setting like Wednesday night's event offers unique opportunities for leaders to find commonalities, get to know each other as people and engage in additional dialogue. And the only way to grab them is to be there.

By Jena McGregor | January 19, 2011; 10:11 AM ET | Comments (211)

Arizona shootings: Must it take tragedy to wake up Washington?

But the fact that six people had to die before officials got serious about toning down the vitriol makes a mockery of this thing we call leadership. Real leaders would have stepped forward before this tragedy occurred, making it a priority to calm the discourse before things got out of hand. The ultimate irony, of course, is that Gabrielle Giffords was just that kind of leader.

By Jena McGregor | January 10, 2011; 10:05 AM ET | Comments (29)

How Daley will help Obama

Daley's ties to business, his centrist politics and, perhaps most important, his age and gravitas, should go a long way to helping Obama answer critics about his weaknesses. That is, as long as he keeps letting Daley disagree with him.

By Jena McGregor | January 6, 2011; 04:33 PM ET | Comments (10)

Obama's reshuffle: More outsiders, please

Companies with major strategic problems tend to bolster their executive ranks with outside expertise, whether as employees or consultants. Coaches coming off of losing seasons are expected to bring in new assistants who can overhaul problem areas. For Obama, too, a bigger mix of inside and outside candidates in his major reshuffle could go a long way toward balancing frank assessments and bold new ideas with institutional knowledge and trust.

By Jena McGregor | January 5, 2011; 12:59 PM ET | Comments (11)

Boehner: Will passing up power really work?

What's admirable leadership elsewhere could be a disaster when it comes to Congress. The problem? Decentralization works in other places because everyone is working toward the same goal.

By Jena McGregor | January 4, 2011; 01:04 PM ET | Comments (14)

The expert influence behind START

Mullen's letter, requested by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, proves that support from a respected name on a subject can still help cut through partisan acrimony and surmount petty differences.

By Jena McGregor | December 22, 2010; 09:26 AM ET | Comments (9)

Obama's CEO meeting: 'Uncertainty' an excuse for hoarding profits?

CEOs are increasingly saying that it is uncertainty over the economy and regulations that is prompting them not to spend, or invest toward hiring, the nearly $2 trillion in cash on their books--the highest amount in half a century.

By Jena McGregor | December 15, 2010; 04:05 PM ET | Comments (11)

The contradiction of Richard Holbrooke

Seemingly all of the obituaries, remembrances and elegies following Holbrooke's death, on Dec. 13, highlight his extraordinary ego (here was a man who coveted the position of Secretary of State from the time he was a young foreign service member in Vietnam) while simultaneously recognizing him for his willingness to advise his young proteges.

By Jena McGregor | December 14, 2010; 01:11 PM ET | Comments (6)

Boehner's 'cry' for common ground

Boehner may be right that people don't like to give anything up when negotiating a solution--that's why we look to leaders, after all, to hold firm on our most important principles and values, even if it means giving up something of lesser significance. To reject outright the notion of compromise may make the incoming speaker sound like a tough fighter. But if he's left with little common ground, he won't be successful as a leader, either.

By Jena McGregor | December 13, 2010; 12:24 PM ET | Comments (24)

Last-minute Congressional logjam: Few pros, plenty of cons

Whatever the outcome of the bill, and it's not likely to be pretty with that mishmash of agendas, the even more troubling downside is what it says about how our leaders view rules and deadlines in the face of political gain. Putting off tough decisions may help you look better in the short term, but it's hardly leadership. Making the details and intricacies of a trillion dollar budget a top priority that doesn't get pushed to the last-minute, however, is.

By Jena McGregor | December 8, 2010; 01:16 PM ET | Comments (23)

The tax cut deal: Procrastination, not leadership

Both Democrats and Republicans can say there wasn't time for such deliberations with a deadline looming, but both have also known this was coming for years. Then again, carefully planning for the future, as well as tackling the toughest problems first so your successors aren't left with them, takes leadership. And that's been in woefully short supply during the tax cut debate.

By Jena McGregor | December 7, 2010; 12:04 PM ET | Comments (40)

Extending the Bush tax cuts: Human nature?

What does this have to do with the news that the tax cuts are likely to get a temporary extension? Plenty. Those who favor ending the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy seem most worried about what this does to the deficit during the temporary extension, or about what this does to Obama's political fortunes--it was a campaign promise, after all, and many on the Left see such "negotiations" as preliminary caving to Republicans.

By Jena McGregor | December 3, 2010; 10:49 AM ET | Comments (100)

In 'Don't ask' debate, too much asking?

It is the job of leaders, certainly, to debate, probe and not lose their skepticism about critical matters. But the opponents to repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" now face an exhaustive amount of evidence that doing so poses little risk to the military. Not to mention it has support from the country's top two defense and military leaders, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen. All of which raises an important leadership question: Where's the line between debating and questioning findings on critical matters and ignoring exhaustive research and expertise?

By Jena McGregor | December 2, 2010; 12:50 PM ET | Comments (99)

The GOP's lame-duck blockade

Of course, this is the Senate we're talking about here, where politics has become so corroding and divisive that the chamber has nearly lost its capacity to govern. Perhaps the mere expectation from our leaders of multitasking is too much to ask. Yes, Congress needs to set priorities and focus on coming to a compromise on the tax cuts. But to formalize that into a pledge that opposes any legislation the other party proposes is neglecting the rest of their duties and adding even more political kindling to an already explosive situation.

By Jena McGregor | December 1, 2010; 10:26 AM ET | Comments (225)

What businesses should know about WikiLeaks

Complete openness and transparency is not only impossible but undesirable in any large institution. Controlling who has access to information that matters--without limiting access to information that would be helpful to employees--is a tension every leader should be wrestling with today.

By Jena McGregor | November 30, 2010; 12:08 PM ET | Comments (5)

Bush and Zuckerberg: Leadership soul mates?

George W. Bush and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg may not seem like they have a lot in common. One is a mid-60s former leader of the free world who famously called the Web "the Internets"; the other is a hoodie-wearing, twenty-something entrepreneur who runs one of the world's fastest growing technology companies.

By Jena McGregor | November 30, 2010; 12:08 PM ET | Comments (0)

The federal pay freeze: Will a brain drain follow?

Facing a ballooning deficit and a historic recession, Obama is doing the right thing by freezing the pay of federal workers for the next two years. But those who want sharply deeper cuts should make sure they know the unintended consequences that could surface. When the economy does turn around, and someday it will, more austere cuts to federal pay and benefits could prompt a brain drain of the best and brightest, no longer willing to pass up better pay to be physicians caring for wounded soldiers, scientists deciding which important research gets funded, or computer engineers monitoring cyber-terrorists.

By Jena McGregor | November 29, 2010; 02:32 PM ET | Comments (135)

TSA chief shifts his stance after media pat-down

It's hard to understand exactly what Pistole was thinking. The furor over the new pat-downs has been growing for days, and he needed to have a strategy for dealing sympathetically with the inevitable questions about what the TSA was doing in response to travelers' complaints. He tried, of course, but instead seemed intent on repeating talking points over and over again (such as how few people actually receive the new "enhanced" pat-downs). While he admitted the new policies were "invasive" and "uncomfortable," there was almost no explanation whatsoever for how the TSA was going to take into account fliers' fury.

By Jena McGregor | November 22, 2010; 09:24 AM ET | Comments (21)

Why Rangel's punishment won't really matter

In a way, Rangel's supporters are right--the real punishment for Rangel was losing a powerful position in the House, one that took years of seniority and status to earn. In that sense, his punishment was already meted out earlier this year. The process of an ethics trial would be much more meaningful if there were tiers of punishment below expulsion that explicitly brought with them more substantial penalties, such as demotions or fines.

By Jena McGregor | November 17, 2010; 12:41 PM ET | Comments (20)

Obama's trouble: Setting expectations?

But once a leader gets elected, the calculus changes. Rather than driving expectations up, leaders have to send them down, and then beat them. Finding the right balance between setting goals to be held accountable for and not promising too much may just be the most formidable leadership challenge leaders face--and one that's proving especially difficult for Obama.

By Jena McGregor | November 15, 2010; 08:07 AM ET | Comments (8)

Cutback proposals pose leadership dilemma for federal managers

The cutbacks the deficit commission's chairmen recommend may go nowhere, of course. Many of their other proposals, from cutting the mortgage tax deduction to increasing the Social Security retirement age, may never gain real traction. But with the wind at the backs of GOP lawmakers, federal workforce reductions--both in size and in benefits--could be tangible. Government employees could see frozen salaries, trimmed retirement benefits and halted bonus levels.

By Jena McGregor | November 12, 2010; 06:01 AM ET | Comments (6)

Obama's 'leadership vs. management' problem

The president, in effect, is confronting an all too classic problem. Obama's "legislation vs. leadership" quandary is not all that different from the "management vs. leadership" dilemma many people in power face. Many leaders aren't very good managers, while many managers don't really know how to lead. To find both qualities in one person--the ability to execute and the capacity to inspire--is exceedingly rare.

By Jena McGregor | November 9, 2010; 10:46 AM ET | Comments (4)

Time for Pelosi to call it quits as Democratic figurehead?

For better or for worse, selecting leaders is a very symbolic act. Someone may be an effective fundraiser, or a brilliant manager, or a seasoned negotiator; but if they are the wrong face for the wrong time, they have a much harder time being any of those things. With President Obama talking compromise and greater back-and-forth (he hopes) with the newly empowered Republican party, having Nancy Pelosi as the figurehead of the Democratic Congress sends the message that things are unlikely to change.

By Jena McGregor | November 8, 2010; 10:06 AM ET | Comments (44)

Obama's post-election tightrope walk

Obama is walking a high-wire tightrope. On the one hand, he needs to be willing to compromise, course correct and even renegotiate some of what he's already achieved. But on the other, he has to continue to stand by what he believes, and not bow so much to pressure that he ends up abandoning his ideals. After all, Obama did campaign on many, though not all, of the policies he worked on during his first two years in office.

By Jena McGregor | November 4, 2010; 09:55 AM ET | Comments (0)

What if Bernanke didn't get it right?

We somehow hold faith that our leaders will get us out of our worst crises. That's especially true when it comes to subjects the average person is fuzzy about, like monetary policy and "quantitative easing."

By Jena McGregor | November 3, 2010; 02:55 PM ET | Comments (19)

Does 'the first 100 days' concept really matter anymore?

In today's 24/7 news cycle, and with the country facing economic problems that require expedient and immediate change, a three-month grace period sounds about as archaic as FDR's fireside chats. If new elected leaders want to make an impact, they're going to have to act fast. And they're not going to get much forgiveness from a cable industry hungry for the first slip up or political gaffe.

By Jena McGregor | November 3, 2010; 09:57 AM ET | Comments (0)

Obama's "enemies" comment: Holding the president to a higher bar

Of course, actually "unifying" anyone--or anything--in Washington is extremely difficult, if not impossible, these days. And Obama may have tried to flex this mediation muscle against a Republican party that was obstinate in opposing him at every turn. But despite that frustration, Obama's calling his opponents enemies did nothing to help the situation. Even if it may seem a double standard at times...

By Jena McGregor | November 2, 2010; 09:19 AM ET | Comments (204)

Is Sarah Palin good for women in government?

the Democrats get the bloodbath that's expected, women could lose seats in national office for the first time in 30 years, reports the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Which leads to the question: Is Sarah Palin good for women in government?

By Jena McGregor | October 29, 2010; 12:01 AM ET | Comments (148)

Caprio: The final death knell of political civility?

The apex of this biennial bout of incivility was reached Monday--though with six more days until the election, it may yet be topped--when Rhode Island Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio said President Obama could take his endorsement and "shove it." Or actually, his lack of one. Caprio, the White House maintains, asked for an endorsement, but Obama chose not to give one to any of the candidates, out of respect to Caprio's independent opponent Lincoln Chafee, who has supported Obama in the past.

By Jena McGregor | October 27, 2010; 11:55 AM ET | Comments (18)

The BP oil spill papers: A case study in management failure

A weakened presidency, heightened national political tensions and the magnitude of the spill all contributed to decision-making meddling from higher-ups. But any organization in crisis often faces the same risk: top executives want to look like they're taking swift action, when really the best course might be simply letting go. The temptation for leaders to wade in--no pun intended--and micro-manage during a crisis blurs decision-making structures, confuses front-line workers and slows down action as everyone waits to see what the higher-ups want now that the traditional process has been shattered.

By Jena McGregor | October 7, 2010; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (6)

Clinton-Biden switcheroo? Not a bad idea

Why not? Rotating executives between top jobs happens all the time in business, and is seen as good management and corporate governance. It's a natural way for leaders to challenge themselves, develop their skills and stretch different management muscles for a few years.

By Jena McGregor | October 6, 2010; 09:49 AM ET | Comments (31)

Obama's team of rivals: An asset turned liability?

When President Obama named Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state soon after winning the election, Washington pundits and press cheered the incoming president for his willingness to put together a "team of rivals." Doris Kearns Goodwin, the author...

By Jena McGregor | September 23, 2010; 12:37 AM ET | Comments (3)

Why a CEO shouldn't run the NEC

The temptation to send a signal when filling such an important leadership role is a risky one. One sees it all the time: rather than simply picking the best person for a job, leaders make political decisions on who will ruffle the fewest feathers or send the right message to their employees, their investors or their constituents.

By Jena McGregor | September 22, 2010; 11:09 AM ET | Comments (2)

Keep it simple, Obama

Obama's message problem is about more than just deciding when he does and doesn't need to pick up the mallet. The themes he crafts for his own speeches and campaign stops need to be simplified and winnowed down. I can't count the number of leaders and leadership experts I've spoken to over the years who say three is the magic number of separate goals or ideas people can easily focus on at the same time. Then, repeat them. Over and over and over again. And then again.

By Jena McGregor | September 17, 2010; 11:02 AM ET | Comments (41)

Warren's appointment: The pitfalls of compromise

And so, Obama landed on a compromise--something leaders have to do every day. Except that in Obama's world (where voter dissatisfaction, a radically polarized political spectrum and a news media hungry to turn everything into a controversy), compromises don't have the usual effect.

By Jena McGregor | September 16, 2010; 11:56 AM ET | Comments (0)

Fenty: The danger of going with your gut

The lessons for leaders are too many to count: Fenty is a textbook case for the risks not only of using brash tactics, but having an insular staff, lacking a sense of urgency and thumbing your nose at...

By Jena McGregor | September 15, 2010; 10:04 AM ET | Comments (11)

The great paradox of the great recession

According to President Obama's new chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, the jobless rate in the United States is likely to remain high for a long time. But there's one place where there are plenty of jobs open to fill, and that's the President's economic policy and financial regulatory team.

By Jena McGregor | September 13, 2010; 10:42 AM ET | Comments (8)

A brain trust for President Obama?

What was idle chatter earlier this week about a shakeup in Obama's ranks has risen to shouting levels now that the mayor's job in Chicago is up for grabs and the president's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, could run for it.

By Jena McGregor | September 9, 2010; 10:53 AM ET | Comments (13)

Should President Obama shake up his staff?

In my many conversations with leaders, I have often asked what they wish they'd done differently, or what mistake they considered their greatest. Few things come up more often than that they wished they'd moved faster on personnel decisions, and made the hard call to fire someone who wasn't working out as planned.

By Jena McGregor | September 7, 2010; 10:59 PM ET | Comments (20)

Can Anyone Really Run This Place?

No matter how much we like to turn our presidents and global CEOs into celebrities, no matter how much we prefer to reward heros and identify victims when large systems succeed or fail, and of course, no matter how powerful and transformative a good leader can be, there is a limit to what one person can do. But the answer is...

By Jena McGregor | September 2, 2010; 11:04 PM ET | Comments (65)

The lessons the government must learn from corporate workplaces

Simply sharing more about your team's status and direction is the best way to make people feel better about their jobs and their future, especially during times of uncertainty.

By Jena McGregor | August 31, 2010; 01:17 PM ET | Comments (2)

Weekend reads, the jobs edition

PostLeadership offers a few reads related to getting, keeping, and creating jobs. If you're so lucky to have one, enjoy it over the next couple of days, something employed folks like to call the weekend.

By Jena McGregor | August 27, 2010; 02:05 PM ET | Comments (0)

The best way to rein in CEO pay

I'd argue that the only way executive pay will ever be reined in is to have a say not just on what CEOs make but also on the boards who are making the decisions.

By Jena McGregor | August 25, 2010; 07:41 PM ET | Comments (84)

We Pay Less. So Come Work Here!

it seems the OPM could do less to laud how "little" federal employees get paid and more to boost the benefits of working there. Yes, set the record straight with fair comparisons, if such a thing is even possible--as they are now, the numbers seem practically meaningless in their massive scope. But at the same time, government leaders should also be doing everything they can to recruit the best and brightest.

By Jena McGregor | August 16, 2010; 11:54 PM ET | Comments (0)

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