Part One: Seven To-Do’s

Part I of our book presents a straightforward to-do list to guide you in your new leadership position:

  • Before confirmation, be careful. There is likely to be a gap in time (sometimes long) between nomination and confirmation. During this time period, learn as much about your agency as possible. In addition, be careful throughout this time period to avoid making commitments or decisions prior to being officially confirmed.
  • Learn how things work. While you have done your background research on your agency prior to your confirmation, devote your early days in office to learning more about your customers, your agency programs, and “flash points” that may cause problems down the road for your agency.
  • Act quickly. As part of learning how your agency works, find out what needs quick action by you and what issues require further study. You will learn much from talking with your staff and stakeholders about how your agency is performing and what actions you need to take quickly.
  • Develop a vision and a focused agenda. A vision and a focused agenda will be crucial to your success in Washington. You will need to both communicate the vision and convey a sense of urgency to get it done.
  • Assemble your leadership team. A key ingredient to your success will be putting together a joint political/career team. Don’t view your staff as two distinct camps (political and career). Avoid “political appointees only” meetings as much as possible. Your job is to get these two groups working together as one management team committed to your vision and your agency’s goals.
  • Deliver results. Once you have created a vision, focused agenda, and a good leadership team, there will be many distractions. Delivering on promises not only will take discipline, but also a set of decision-making and operational processes. Leverage existing processes and networks where possible. Ensure that day-to-day operations are effective, but don’t try to manage them yourself or you’ll quickly lose perspective and your focus on your vision and results. Also, keeping a focus on measurable results makes it easier to make your case with key stakeholders.
  • Manage your environment. All organizations—public and private— have stakeholders and a complex environment, but many observers think that government is harder because there are so many stakeholders.

Part II discusses 14 major stakeholders with whom you will be dealing. The key to your success will be succeeding (to a large extent) with all of them. Failure to work effectively with any one group can likely lessen your chances of success in government and possibly
shorten your tenure.