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Focus on what you can do – advice for leaders

When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve millions of people around the world start planning their resolutions. For most people those resolutions fall into a few categories: health, relationships, family and career.

We are going to tackle the career question here. And sometimes the resolutions are more about perspective than anything else.

Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that one of the easiest thing every employee can do is focus on what you can do – not worry about things outside of your control.

Focus on what you can do. It’s a tough time to be a federal manager given all the uncertainty around budget cuts. As a leader, you must confront the very real challenges facing your agency and make sure that you don’t fall prey to thinking every problem affects your team or requires a solution. If you do, you and your team will feel overwhelmed quickly. Keep focused on solving the problems you can address, and when you hear folks taking a negative turn, redirect their conversations to emphasize what can be done.

Recognize your employees. In these times of growing anti-government sentiment, it’s important to recognize the achievements and innovations of your top performers. Regularly let your employees know that they are appreciated for their performance and contributions to your agency’s mission. Recognition doesn’t have to be in the form of a cash reward, a simple “thank you” for a job well done in a hand-written note can go a long way.

Spend time every day thinking strategically about your team. In the new year, regularly examine the composition of your team — considering each person’s strengths and weaknesses, assessing whether you’re supporting their continued growth effectively, and planning succession strategies if teammates leave. The best federal leaders put in the hard work 24/7/365 and engage their team in ongoing conversations about performance and professional development.

Communicate more. Key to federal leaders’ effectiveness is how well they communicate with their employees. There are a few simple things that you can do to be more transparent with your team in 2013. Hold weekly team meetings, send out a weekly email update and schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. Whatever you do, finding more ways of sharing information with your team will help improve their engagement.

Ask your team for help. Leaders too often feel they have to carry the burden of solving every problem their team encounters. Engage your team about their insights, thoughts and solutions. Involve them in a dialogue around a problem that needs to be solved. There’s probably a great deal you can learn from your employees’ expertise, and you never know where the conversation might lead.

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