Quack – How to Avoid Being a Lame Duck

The Obama administration has only two more short years in office. These two years are often marred by an inability to get things done. The reasons for this lack of action vary – too much political pressure, not enough time or weight to get anything done or an administration that’s simply run out of steam.

But the last two years of a presidency are not always destined to lame duck status. It’s possible to get things done, if you know how to prioritize.

Tom Fox, Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that the American people expect the federal government to do its job, they expect and demand action.

So the question becomes how do you avoid lame duck status?

For starters, Fox says you have to convey a feeling that you (the administration) are there to get work done. “You need to signal to your staff and agencies that you’re not going to coast the final two years. Previous leaders who’ve had the most success don’t focus on only having two years left, they’re really focused on managing and creating products that are going to last well past the administration.”

In the end effective management makes all the difference. “If you’re a political appointee, you’ve got to work with your career counterparts in the Senior Executive Service and frontline folks to make them a part of the team. They need to know you are not checking out,” said Fox. “Really these are the people that are going to be carrying out your initiatives in the next few years, so you need to empower them and motivate them.”

Programs like GSA’s consultancy program 18F or the White House’s Presidential Innovation Fellowship program will only continue into the next administration if they are baked into the government culture. “Administrations need to not only create a leadership position as it relates to these initiatives, but a real genuine vested interest. Otherwise there is no continuity. But is someone feels like they’ve been genuinely a part of the design, the research, the delivery of these sorts of things – then they will fight for the program long after the political appointee is gone.”

For Fox good management boils down to three key traits:

  • Communication
  • Motivation
  • Loyalty

“If you can talk to your staff about why an imitative matters. If you can get your team aligned around a single mission. If you can get your team to depend on each other. If you can do those three things, you are a good leader, and you can all but guarantee your project will still be around an administration from now,” said Fox.

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