Michèle Flournoy, the former undersecretary of defense policy, and Margaret Spellings, a former secretary of education, have written an article, “The First 100 Days in Government,” that includes valuable tips on how leaders can get things done in government.
“First impressions do matter, and you will be in the spotlight the moment you walk through the door,” the two former federal officials said. “Your first months in office will establish your credibility and reputation for getting things done — or not.”
While there is no guaranteed recipe for success, here are some insights from Flournoy and Spellings to help newly appointed leaders find their way.
Know yourself and prepare.
As soon as you are tapped for a position, take stock of your strengths, weaknesses and leadership style. Be thoughtful about how you intend to fulfill this new role and what you will need to be successful. Begin to develop a sense of what you want to accomplish. In addition, identify a few trusted advisers who will tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear, and who will keep you from living in “the bubble.”
Know your organization.
Once in office, take time to understand the mission, roles, work and people in your organization and what makes it tick. It’s important to engage not only your direct reports but also frontline staff. Ask hard questions and identify trusted information sources at various levels of the organization. Understand your resources and how they are allocated and also be aware of important cycles such as the budget process and the congressional calendar.
Understand your ecosystem.
Map your larger “ecosystem” to identify who your customer is as well as your most important external stakeholders, such as White House staff, the Office of Management and Budget, counterparts in other agencies and key members of Congress or their staff. Reach out to them early to get an “outside-in view” of your organization as well as their candid assessment of the organization and its performance. Over time, invest in building these relationships to provide you with valuable feedback and to get things done.
“It's a team sport!”
Building a strong, cohesive and effective leadership team is your highest priority. As a new appointee, you may find yourself a relative latecomer “joining the party” and inherit a team you did not choose, so it’s important that you spend time getting to know your team and assessing whether you need to make any changes. As your leadership team takes shape, be clear about how you see their roles and responsibilities; how decisions will be made; how you expect them to support you and to work together; and how they can expect you to hold them accountable. Then empower them to the maximum extent possible. It is also critical to include senior career civil servants in your leadership circle. Their institutional knowledge and experience will benefit you enormously, and by building trust and engaging your agency’s career employees, you will also signal to the workforce at large that they are “inside the tent” and part of your team.