A primer for Trump appointees new to government service

  • January 9, 2017
  • By Melody Walker
  • 3 minute read

If you’re one of the more than four thousand political appointees taking office in the new Trump administration, this book is a must-read. Leading in Government is based on management questions from career civil servants across the federal bureaucracy. The author, a professor of organization and strategy at Washington University in St. Louis, provides advice that reveals helpful leadership insights on the inner workings of government agencies and departments.

“Leadership in the federal government is more challenging than in any other sector,” says Nickerson who is Director of Brookings Executive Education (BEE)*, a partnership of the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. and Olin Business School at Washington University. “It’s challenging because public leaders have at least 535 bosses (elected members of Congress), political appointees turnover frequently, and the budgeting and authorities processes that make coordination and collaboration across government difficult.”

During a presidential transition, the thousands of political appointees who are put in charge of the legions of career civil servants are often at a great disadvantage when they assume their new posts according to Nickerson. “Challenges arise with transitions because of new priorities and directions and the sudden flood of new political appointees, many of whom have little direct leadership experience in government.”

Leading in Government is a must read and important for anyone, civilian or military, tasked with the onerous responsibility to help mitigate the security and stability issues facing our nation and the world.

—Martin R. Steele, Lieutenant General, US Marine Corps (Retired)

Leading in Government provides new thinking about how public leaders on the front lines can respond to a wide variety of real leadership challenges, dilemmas, and problems found in government. The book covers leadership issues confronted by civil servants at different career stages in a problem-solution format based on questions submitted to Nickerson’s column published on Government Executive’s website.

In Leading in Government, readers will learn about:

  • how managers can promote innovation
  • how managers can build trust
  • maintaining a motivated workforce when faced with budget cuts
  • navigating conflicts in a politically polarized environment
  • the 28 leadership competencies or Executive Core Qualifications, known as “ECQs,” created by the Office of Personnel Management as a model for executive leadership development

Leading Thinking®, a leadership philosophy developed at Brookings Executive Education, provides the foundation for the approach to problem-solving guidance throughout Leading in Government. Nickerson suggests that the three central ideas of the philosophy are helpful to experienced as well as newly appointed political leaders:

  • Leaders should stop, think, act, and reflect.
  • Leaders must engage in thinking by comprehensively formulating their challenge before trying to resolve it through a process of inquiry. Doing so helps to overcome individual and group biases that all too often lead to solving the wrong problem and stimulating internal politics and battles that destroy worker engagement.
  • Leaders must reflect. The most useful reflection approaches lead to changes in thinking patterns and the constant striving to be better thinkers and leaders.

Linda M. Springer, former Director, US Office of Personnel Management, and a member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, recommends Nickerson’s book to leaders at all levels of government:

At a time when the responsibilities facing public servants are so consequential, this volume is a welcome addition. It is to be hoped that current and future government leaders will take hold of these insights and put them into practice.

—Linda M. Springer, former Director, US Office of Personnel Management

Leading in Government is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

*Brookings Executive Education (BEE), is a partnership of the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. and Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. BEE offers leadership courses and degree programs for middle and upper level government managers. To learn more, visit: brookings.edu/about/exceed

Image: Gage Skidmore Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.

About the Author

Melody Walker

Melody Walker

My nickname around the office is "Scoops" because I always have the latest news from the halls of Simon, Starbucks, or the STL startup scene. Thanks to staff and student bloggers, I'm not alone in reporting on the Olin community here on the Blog. Don't be shy, post a comment or send us your story. New bloggers always welcome!

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