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Pushing change through the government: An interview with White House and OMB veteran Lisa Brown

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Lisa Brown worked at the White House in senior roles during the Clinton and Obama administrations, including four years as deputy counsel and counsel to Vice President Gore, staff secretary to President Obama, and most recently at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as acting chief performance officer. She will assume the post of vice president and general counsel at Georgetown University on March 1. Brown spoke with Tom Fox, who is a guest writer for the Washington Post's On Leadership section and vice president for leadership and innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up the Partnership's Center for Government Leadership.

What motivated you to consider public service?

It actually started with my family. My father believed deeply in this country, and he instilled in me a strong patriotism and a belief in the values of this country -- like liberty, equality and free speech. I literally remember growing up having conversations at the dinner table about how lucky we were to live in the United States with this system of government. My mother in turn was very clear that if you're lucky enough to receive a good education and to have the opportunity, then part of your responsibility is to give back to help make the world and your community a better place. For me, it really comes down to helping our country live up to its promise, working on realizing the promise of creating a more perfect union.

What do you consider to be the top traits that lead to success as a government leader?

The first one has to be working well with career employees and understanding their importance and value. They come to the table with a huge amount of experience and institutional knowledge. The second is to set clear goals: articulate them with passion, but establish milestones and metrics and hold people accountable. Try to inspire the people who work with you, be very clear about your goals, and work with them as a team on the best way to accomplish your goals. The last thing, particularly for people coming from the private sector, is to understand the concept of shared power. In the executive branch, you work with Congress so you often can't just do something unilaterally. You must understand and try to maximize that relationship.

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