02/18/2014 05:24 pm ET Updated Apr 20, 2014

How to make government a more excellent, more innovative place to work

Robert Sutton is a professor of management at Stanford University, an organizational researcher and author of numerous management books. On Leadership spoke with Sutton about his newest book, "Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less," in a recent interview ("How to spread an excellent idea"). Yet we also asked Sutton what wisdom he had to impart specifically for federal leaders, and his insights about fostering innovation and excellence in government form the basis for this following Q&A.

Sutton spoke with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.

Q. The central premise of your recent book is about scaling up excellence. Can you explain what you mean?

A. To make things better in an organization or start a new organization that remains great, you need to create or find pockets of excellence and then spread them more widely. When you look at organizations that are really good at this, they never have the sense that it's done and finished. There's this restlessness that things can always be better.