11/29/2010 02:30 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Managing Your Young Guns

This Federal Coach column originally ran in The Washington Post

Lately, I've noticed a lot more young professionals with federal agency badges commuting to and from work.

It made me wonder: Am I just getting older or is there something to this trend?

I asked the Partnership's research team for some data. They said the federal government has been hiring increased numbers of young people for the past five years and will need to fill more than 50,000 entry-level jobs in the next year alone, which is great news for the public sector.

The influx of the new generation has no doubt brought a fresh perspective and a new set of ideas to the important work of our government. But it also has brought a sense of impatience-- a desire by many young feds to quickly move up the career ladder.

This is only natural, of course, but it can be frustrating for experienced managers. Some federal leaders have shared that after hearing a young person's desire to be a deputy secretary following a short stint on the job, they rolled their eyes, walked away, and muttered, "Whatever happened to paying your dues?"

While this reaction is completely understandable, the best leaders recognize that potential talent is nurtured by developing expertise, executive skills and solid judgment, along with providing constant feedback and opportunities for personal growth.

Here's some advice on how you can manage your young guns' expectations, maximize their learning opportunities and lead them on the long path from new hire to deputy secretary:

Connect the dots between now and the future - While entry-level jobs can be less than glamorous, they undoubtedly contribute to the agency's mission and to an individuals' professional development. I spent the early part of my career answering phones on Capitol Hill when I really wanted to be drafting legislation. I now realize that this job allowed me to learn the issues while also teaching me patience, customer service and to be calm under pressure - skills I frequently draw upon now. Help your folks understand that the experience and skills they're building today will be invaluable later in their careers.

Encourage an apprenticeship mindset - Some of my best learning has come from observing those around me. I've learned more about nonprofit management working at the Partnership for Public Service than I could ever learn from a set of courses or workshops - although my education has certainly come in handy. Encourage your folks to look for learning opportunities in their daily interactions with colleagues, functional experts (e.g., knowledge of the federal budgeting process is golden), or senior leaders.

Reinforce lessons learned through constant feedback - Regularly sit down with your young employees to process their experience and other on-the-job learning to ensure that they're mining the opportunities around them. Ask provocative questions about how they're learning to be a leader based on the examples in the agency. See whether they would act differently if confronted with similar issues to those of the leaders in your agency. Recognize that their experience will help position them to be a better leader when their time comes.

How are you preparing your Millennials to take on future leadership opportunities? If you're one of those up-and-comers ready to make a difference, how are you maximizing the learning opportunities you have working in our federal government? Please share your ideas by leaving a comment or emailing me at