Please pardon our dust! The SEA website and membership database are under construction until mid-May due to some exciting changes that are in progress. Until then, we will not be issuing any new member identification numbers. Please email any membership inquiries to action@seniorexecs.org. Also, SEA Headquarters has a new address. Going forward, please send all USPS correspondence to 7918 Jones Branch Drive, Suite 300, McLean, VA 22102. We look forward to unveiling a brand new SEA website in mid-May which will greatly enhance your membership experience. Stay tuned and thank you for your patience!

Want To Develop Empathy? Play Dungeons & Dragons

Empathy is hot right now. But why should a public sector executive care about it? It might be tempting to think about it as something fuzzy that’s nice to have if you can get it, but empathy will make you better at understanding the people you serve, plus more effective at it. How can you serve someone you don’t understand? Often our jobs involve getting many others, whether they’re other public servants, members of stakeholder groups, or everyday citizens, to accept a change or a burden that will benefit them in the long run. Reaching them on an emotional level is a far better and more lasting mechanism than arguments and authority alone.

So what can we do to develop empathy in ourselves so we are better leaders, better public servants, and better people? A quick survey of some research and best practices out there can give busy public servants like you a place to start. These tips may surprise you.

1. Practice Active Listening. This means actively trying to understand what the other person is saying and mirroring it back to them to be sure you heard it correctly, rather than focusing part of your attention on what your next point will be. It also means giving up on the illusion that you can listen and multitask at the same time. Make the person in front of you the most important thing in your world while they speak, just as you would want to be if you were them.

2. Understand Yourself. Don’t pretend your feelings don’t affect you. How you feel will affect how well you can hear someone or put yourself in their shoes. It takes energy and emotional strength to do that, so monitor and manage those reserves. Also, no one comes to the table without biases. Know your own so you can be sure you are controlling them and they’re not controlling you.

3. Be Patient. Showing empathy takes time, so you won’t be able to move as quickly through meetings, conversations, and tasks as you might have done before. The extra time now will be balanced by having more satisfied customers, better relationships, and better results. And be patient with yourself as you learn how to do this. Empathy is a skill and a habit like any other that takes time to master. These tips can be found in wisdom that’s been passed down for ages, but if it was easy to do and to keep doing, we’d live in a different world. Consider using tools like compassion meditation to support yourself.

4. Track Your Progress. Measuring how you and your team are growing your skills will keep you grounded. There are tools to do this, like one developed for government by HMRC or a more general one developed at Arizona State University. There may also be lessons to learn from tools developed for other disciplines, like the Jefferson Scale of Empathy, used by doctors in 85 countries.

5. Step Into Their Shoes. Find ways to see things from the perspective of others, especially the citizens you serve. A key principle of human-centered design is to approach the system or product being created from the standpoint of the person who will use it. One way to do this is to form connections with the people you serve as equals by reaching out to them and their communities, which has the added benefit of helping to address the loneliness crisis. Some governments have also developed tools to accomplish this, such as Bangladesh, which trains civil servants in empathy methodology. Others to help you systematically capture this perspective includeuser research, a formal impact assessment, or an empathy map.

6. Use Art. Researchers are still studying the ways in which art can affect us, including building our capacity to feel empathy. Using your left and your right brainto grow this trait has the benefit of being something you will enjoy too. Even something as simple as reading fiction can help, because it has the unique ability to fully place us inside someone else’s thoughts and feelings. If you want to stretch yourself, try a role-playing game like Dungeons and Dragons or perform in some type of theater. Trying to convincingly inhabit a whole new person is incredible practice for learning how to connect with someone else on an empathic level. It’s also fun. You’ll feel a little silly at first, but vulnerability is a key ingredient to openness and avoiding mental stagnation.

There are more successes and great ideas out there, so if you know of something successful, spread the word and help make government a little more compassionate. Most of these are practices you could implement on your own, tomorrow, if you wanted, without needing permission from anyone. Start your journey to a better you.

Joseph Maltby is an organizational change management specialist in the U.S. Federal government and a member of Young Government Leaders and the Senior Executives Association. A version of this article has been published for Apolitical.

SEA Members Serve on OPM Presidential Rank Awards Review Board

Serving on this year’s Presidential Rank Awards Board was my first time. I was intrigued after seeing a notice in a recent SEA Weekly Alert. I decided to “give it a go” and signed onto one of the four sessions. There were 6 teams of 3 reviewers and each team reviewed 15 nominations. We reviewed both SES and SL/ST nominations. SES nominees were evaluated against Program Results and Executive Leadership criteria and SL/ST nominees were evaluated against Program Results and Stature in Professional Field ones. Each team was asked to only rate each nominee and provide our scores. OPM tallies the scores and makes the final decisions. From my perspective, nomination write-ups with specific quantifiable results scored higher.

I was impressed by the commitment and desire to continue giving back exhibited by all 18 retired SES reviewers serving that day. I had the pleasure of being paired with Bill Brown retired SES from Army Corps of Engineers and Charles Holland, retired SES from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency both of whom are members of SEA. I even put in a plug for joining the SEA.

The day was rewarding and I plan to volunteer again next year. I would encourage others to consider doing the same. If interested in learning more or signing up to participate next year, please contact the OPM PRA program office at PRAprogram@opm.gov.

Review Board

How Much Market Risk Are You Really Willing to Accept?

If you’re like a lot of investors, you may have trouble quantifying the level of risk you are comfortable taking on in your portfolio. Do you like to play it safe, staying in conservative investments even if it means potentially missing out on bigger returns? Or are you willing to take on more risk in the hopes of capturing higher gains? If you’re not sure where you land on the spectrum, consider the following eight tips to help define your views on investment risk:

  1. Define your goals. Your financial plan should be structured to help you get from where you are now to where you’d like to be with key goals, such as saving for your child’s college education or retirement. Your investment strategy should be a key part of this financial plan. Define exactly how much money you will need to save, and when you will need it by. When your goals are crystal clear, it can be easier to weigh the various risks and choices you must make to achieve them.
  1. Consider the general market environment. It seems fair to say that investors’ willingness to accept risk increases in periods when the stock market has performed well for an extended period of time. In the past decade, stocks have generally been on the upswing. On the heels of such a positive market, investors’ level of confidence about owning assets that are subject to fluctuation may be higher. By contrast, investors sometimes become more skittish in periods when markets are struggling. Confidence in stocks and other variable investments tends to decline when the market is not performing well.
  1. Accept market moves as normal. It’s a known fact that stock markets move up and down – sometimes significantly – which means there’s always risk that a particular investment could lose value. Keep in mind that historically markets have recovered, and the reward potential of investing in future growth of global businesses remains strong. Prepare yourself for the fact that investing is not a smooth upward climb, and a smart strategy can help the market moves work in your favor.
  1. Recognize that time is one of the biggest influences on risk tolerance. If you have a decade or more to reach your goals (such as retirement), you likely can ride out market downturns or even extended flat or negative markets. If you expect to reach your goals (such as a new home) in the next few years, you may need to think more about how to protect your investments against the impact of market moves. With this in mind, your risk tolerance will likely adjust as you get closer to achieving various goals.
  1. Trust your instincts, but don’t make decisions solely based on emotions. If you are worried about what’s ahead in the markets or how your finances would fare if another Great Recession occurs, it may be time to reassess your portfolio to take some risk off the table. Yet, it’s important to not be overly swayed by day-to-day headlines. Look for consistent, long-term trends or events that impact market fundamentals before considering action. And, be sure that any decisions you make align with your financial goals, as defined in tip #1 above.
  1. Consider purchasing power risk. Inflation is always a factor worth considering. Simply stated, your money more than likely won’t be worth as much in the future as it is today. It is important to own investments that can help your asset base at least keep pace with inflation, and hopefully grow faster than the cost of living.
  1. Be mindful of interest rate risk. Fixed income instruments such as bonds carry their own risks, one of them being that if interest rates rise, bond values will decline. Given that yields are slowly rising from historically low levels, this risk may be more significant today.
  1. Explore ways to stay invested in the market while mitigating some of the risk. Maintaining healthy diversification across a variety of asset classes is a key way to manage risk. Staying invested for the long-term and not trying to time the market is another. Dollar-cost averaging, or investing consistent amounts of money at regular intervals, rather than investing lump sums at one time, can help you remain committed to your saving strategy. Additionally, products (such as variable annuities) that allow you to continue to participate in the market’s growth potential while locking in gains may also be worth considering.

Given your timeframe, current savings, income and other financial priorities, how much risk are you willing to take to achieve your goals? This is the ultimate question you need to answer to determine your risk tolerance. If you want help deciding whether your portfolio is appropriate for your feelings on risk, consult a financial advisor who can provide a second opinion.

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Thomas R. Pasta, CFP® is a Private Wealth Advisor with Trident Wealth, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. in Annapolis, MD.  He specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for 21 years. To contact him, call 410-224-7581, or visit our office 711 Bestgate Road, Suite 201, Annapolis, MD 21401.

Diversification and dollar cost averaging does not assure a profit or protect against loss.

Investment advisory products and services are made available through Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., a registered investment adviser.  

Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA and SIPC.

© 2019 Ameriprise Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.

Seven Ways to Clean Your Financial House This Spring

 

Spring is on the way. For many of us, the increasingly longer days and warmer weather signify a chance to tidy up and start fresh. If you enjoy the ritual of spring cleaning, why not take time to spruce up your finances as well? The following list is a great place to start:

1. Your goals. If you set New Year’s financial resolutions, now is a good time to evaluate your progress. If you’re on track – excellent! If you’re not where you hoped you’d be, recommit to your goals. Identify what obstacles are in your way and create a plan to overcome them. If you need help deciding what to do next or how to stay on course going forward, consider meeting with a financial advisor who can provide you with a second opinion and help keep you accountable to your progress.

2. Your portfolio. As you evaluate your financial goals, it may be helpful to also review your portfolio, as the two often go hand-in-hand. Take a look at your asset allocation and ask yourself the following questions: Are you still diversified and invested according to your ability to withstand a potential market drop and the timeframe of when you need the money? And, do you understand why you are invested in the assets you have? Answering these questions can help you decide if you need to rebalance your asset allocation or make other adjustments to your investing strategy.

3. Your budget. There’s a good chance that your cash flow needs will vary in the summer months to come. In addition to summer travel, you may need additional funds for things like child care or extracurricular programs while your kids are away from school. Take time to plan ahead now so you can enjoy the summer fun while still feeling confident that you’re prioritizing retirement and other financial goals.

4. Your credit report. Did you know the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – are required by law to provide you with one free credit report annually? Make it a habit each spring to check your credit report. Doing so is a good way to ensure accuracy, protect against identity theft, and help you prepare for what interest rate you may receive if you plan to make a big purchase soon (such as a vacation home or new boat).

5. Your protection needs. While de-cluttering, take time to review life, home, auto and disability insurance policies to make sure you are still satisfied with your level of coverage. If you’ve experienced any life-changing events, such as divorce or the birth of a child, it’s possible that your needs have changed.

6. Your benefits. Even though open enrollment is typically in the fall, spring is a good time to make sure the benefits you selected are being maximized. Scheduling regular appointments with medical professionals, your eye doctor and dentist can be a great place to start. Also, check to see if you’re eligible for any elective benefits you’re considering, such as a new pair of eye glasses or orthodontic work.

7. Your estate plan. Estate planning is important regardless of your net worth. It’s never too early to create or update your will, health care directive, beneficiaries and basic powers-of-attorney – all of which can help your loved ones make decisions in line with your wishes in the event of your death. If giving assets to your loved ones and/or reducing your tax liability are important to you, an estate plan can also help you with strategies to accomplish those goals.

As with many spring cleaning projects, it’s possible to get overwhelmed as you review your finances. If this happens to you, step back and take each task one at a time. A financial advisor in your area can also help you get “unstuck” and identify ways to re-energize your finances.

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SEA-YGL MENTORING PROGRAM

The 2019 SEA-YGL Mentoring Program, now in its 7th year, is launching on May 1st and we are recruiting SEA Mentors who will help ensure that the next generation of future Federal leaders are prepared for the enormous challenges we face as a Nation and as a society. We are asking SEA’s current and retired SES & GS-15 members to give their time to mentor these aspiring Federal leaders. Please complete the mentor form no later than COB May 20, 2019.

For questions about the program, click here or contact our SEA/YGL Mentor-Protégé Program Manager.

We very much appreciate your willingness to participate in this important program and look forward to hearing about the many successful mentor/protégé relationships that result.

How Do We Govern in a Post-Fact World?

This opinion piece was written by Joseph Maltby, a change management specialist in the U.S. federal government and a member of Young Government Leaders.

The data, turning on the news, and even our own experience tells us that there is intense political disagreement right now.  Not just over the right thing to do but even on basic facts.  People disagree about which pieces of evidence are real, what they mean, and who can be considered a reliable source.  Leaving aside the question of why this is happening, there’s another question to answer about what it means for government and the work of you, the leaders who make it work.  What might the next 10-20 years look like for you? There are three scenarios to choose from and prepare for.  Which one do you find most convincing?

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Ten Considerations For Civi Service Modernization

Summary: The Senior Executives Association (SEA) and the Hoover Institution hosted three Civil Service Modernization Dialogues in the summer and fall of 2018 that had a goal of developing a consensus around general themes and concepts that a diverse group of organizations could support. Those Dialogues were organized around three general themes:

  • Civil Service Workforce Modernization
  • Civil Service Administrative Modernization
  • Civil Service Regulatory Modernization
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