10/05/2012 03:55 pm ET Updated Dec 05, 2012

Moving Forward in Times of Uncertainty for Federal Agencies

Now that we are in the midst of the presidential election cycle and face uncertainties regarding budgets and programs, some federal leaders may be tempted to keep their heads down and wait for events to unfold.

But even under these circumstances, there is a great deal within your control. Perhaps you can begin finding program improvements or cost savings, or work on ways to better engage your employees. Here are a few tips on how to proceed in times like these and make progress toward improving the performance of your program or agency and better serve the American people.

• Focus on what you can do. There are so many events affecting federal agencies that moving ahead with any change may seem impossible. But federal leaders should take a page from Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He suggests distinguishing between your circle of concern and your circle of influence. Don't worry about events beyond your reach. Focus on what you can control and do something about the situation.

• Shrink the problem you're solving. Given the size and scope of most federal offices and programs, solving a serious problem may seem overwhelming. Effective federal leaders often start with small steps, gain some successes and build on the progress.

• Ask for help. With funding constraints hitting virtually every office of every agency, let your team know that you'll need their help in finding ways of delivering on your agency's mission more effectively. No one person will have all of the answers, but together you might come close. Consider scheduling an open brainstorming session. Solicit ideas from the introverts who may come up with a new idea while sitting quietly at their desks. Whatever your approach, give all of your employees a chance to share their two cents.

• Start with yes. Optimism is the foundation of change and innovation. So as the ideas surface, avoid responding with the typical "That will never work." Consider what's realistic and challenge yourself to build and improve on employee ideas. Pick one and work like crazy to make it happen in a short period of time.

• Just get started. While virtually everyone prefers to develop the perfect implementation plan, the leaders who really get things done don't wait for all of the answers. They know that they will discover the right path to implementation once they get started. You need to create an environment where teams can experiment early in the development phase to learn faster and with less risk. Test prototypes to get feedback, incorporate new ideas, not just to check the box, and continuously evolve the idea and build support.

Are there federal leaders you see taking action despite today's uncertainty? What are you doing to keep your team moving forward? Please send me your ideas and examples by posting your comments online or sending an email to

This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.