The Federal Coach: Housing and Urban Development’s ‘malignant optimist’

This week I interviewed Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who – through leading with ‘malignant optimism’ – tries to instill a culture at HUD that encourages creativity and risk-taking.

Q: How can federal employees be better leaders?

A: My sister, a psychiatrist, once jokingly diagnosed me as a malignant optimist, completely incurable, and I do think that there’s an enormous value in setting ambitious goals. Nobody’s perfect. Even the best hitters in baseball get a hit half of the time, and that would be an amazing record. One of the things you have to do as a manager is leave space for people to try things and make mistakes and to ensure that we’re encouraging risk-taking. And, if we don’t get something right the first time, keep trying. Trial and error is really important in terms of getting things right.

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