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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

How To Cope With The Loneliness of Being a Manager

Ever feel lonely at work? Did you notice yourself feeling more lonely once you started managing people? Well, it’s not just you.

Though the exact links between responsibility and loneliness aren’t entirely clear, conventional wisdom is that “the view from the top is a lonely one.” One explanation, proposed by Northwestern associate professor Adam Waytz, is that “power increases loneliness when it involves sole responsibility for exceedingly tough decisions nobody wants to make.”

When you first step into a management role, you’ve just drastically multiplied the number of people you need to make happy. If you don’t prove value to your team, you will lose them. While before it was clear who your gatekeeper was, and what was expected of you, now several individuals will judge your performance. The metrics they will use to grade you will not be in any published career ladder—they will be solely influenced by what each team member thinks good management is.

Your mood and the words you use can have a serious impact on the mental state of your team, leaving you longing for a simpler time. Small changes like eating lunch alone or hiding your true feelings about...

The Top 10 Silent Killers of Government Efficiency and Effectiveness

The Trump administration’s government reform initiative has gone quiet in the past few months. Apparently the White House is incorporating these plans into the administration’s fiscal 2019 budget before going public. Given this, it is unclear what will eventually come out. I was hopeful when the Office of Management and Budget issued guidance for agencies with a “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce.” While it is the right thing to do, its staying power, as was the case with past reform initiatives, is suspect. It will require strong leadership, a focus on doing the right thing and resources to see results.

While thinking about needed reform while writing my book Transforming Government from Congress to the Cubicle, I created a list of what I call silent killers. These orientations, actions (or the lack thereof), decisions, and approaches can kill or diminish the effectiveness of reform.

Leaders must take responsibility for removing barriers to ensure initiatives receive the appropriate resources, reduce risk, and ultimately succeed in serving the American people.

Here, in no particular order, are the top 10 barriers to success:

  1. Politics. You know what that can look like—lack of...

Obama’s Four Rules For Persuading People and Effecting Real Change

Former president Barack Obama addressed 500 young leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists from 60 nations and 27 states at the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago yesterday.

During his welcome speech, “in true dad fashion,” Obama presented a set of four rules he encouraged everyone to follow that he believes will help elevate civic culture, rules we can use to effect change in our everyday lives. “There are just a few of them, and I think they’re pretty simple,” he said.

The rules were sent to the Obama Foundation’s mailing list after the speech. Obama wrote:

1. Listen to the people around you

“Share your stories with one another and try to make a connection. If possible, find someone who’s not like you—who doesn’t look like you, think the way you do, or share the same set of experience as you—at least on the surface.”

2. When you disagree, don’t be disagreeable

“Real change comes through persuasion and openness to others. Have a point of view, be rooted in your experience, and don’t be afraid to share—but listen and be open, don’t be partisan. This isn’t about politics; it’s...

Low Morale Is Contagious

Several years ago, I was working on a team saddled with a pessimistic manager. He bullied and disparaged his employees and created a cold, unfriendly environment. When the supervisor went away on business, I experienced a palpable difference in the office. My co-workers and I were happier, chattier, and overall more relaxed than usual. Of course, when the unpleasant actor returned, we all tensed up again, and our spirits plummeted accordingly.

Most people probably have experience working at an organization with similarly low morale. Employees cry in bathroom stalls, brood through meetings, and complain about their bosses in whispers by the coffee machine. The more frustrated people feel, the less inspired they are to do good work, and productivity and creativity plummet accordingly.

Organizations can’t afford to ignore the problem and hope it gets better on its own. Instead, they need to understand that low morale is often an issue of emotional contagion—a virus that spreads from one person to another as quickly as the flu.

The spiral of negativity

Sigal Barsade, a professor of management at the Wharton School of Business, has searched for the core of this Bad Apple Syndrome. Her research on emotional contagion in...

One Step At a Time: Simple Nudges Can Increase Lifestyle Physical Activity

  • By Matthew Mclaughlin, John Bellettiere and Natasha Bliss
  • October 29, 2017
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You’ve heard this before, right? Physical activity is good for your heart, your overall health – and, believe it or not, even your bank account. While physical activity used to be unavoidable, over the years, those “helpful” modern conveniences like washing machines, elevators, even electric toothbrushes, have made it that much harder to be active.

In the United States today, it’s therefore not surprising that most adults (50-95 percent) do not meet national physical activity recommendations. It’s well-established that inactive Americans are at a higher risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and reduced life expectancy, but additionally there are negative impacts on the economy. While those who are most inactive have the greatest health risks, they also have the most to gain from increased physical activity. So, what can be done to “nudge” people to be more physically active?

A recent study, led by co-author John Bellettiere and a team at San Diego State University, found that stair use increased when signs nudging people to take the stairs were placed at the base of a staircase/escalator at the San Diego International Airport. The study was published Sept. 21 in the Journal of Primary Prevention.