Leading on Leadership Transitions

By Shelley Metzenbaum, Senior Advisor and former President, The Volcker Alliance

Fifty years doing battle for a better world through better government. That's what Carol Bonosaro is all about, approaching that battle with tenacity, creativity, respect (even for those with whom she did not agree), and a fierce commitment to the importance of a strong career executive service. Carol epitomizes what we need in strong executives - determined, smart, innovative, and able to muster the knowledge, troops, and tools needed to handle each situation well both in the short and long-term.

I have enjoyed working with Carol on all manner of things. Most recently, after leaving government to help launch The Volcker Alliance, we worked together to initiate the DEAN’s List, the Distinguished Executives Advisory Network. The DEAN’s List is comprised of current and former Senior Executives and Senior Professionals honored by the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award who are ready and eager to provide their expertise to those already in government, those newly joining government, policy makers, and academics who want to do research and provide education that helps government work better. At the Volcker Alliance, we suspect and hope the DEAN’s List will become an invaluable resource over many years.

As Carol departs the Senior Executives Association, SEA will need to take on the challenge of a leadership transition. That is only one of the transitions SEA members will soon face, though. Those still in government will also need to manage their own organizations’ transitions to newly appointed political leaders.

I want to challenge SEA to play a leadership role here, too, thinking more carefully and explicitly about what every senior career executive should do to prepare for and during a transition. Numerous efforts are currently underway developing recommendations for the next Presidential administration on both policy and management matters. None, to my knowledge, both in the past or underway, plan to discuss what senior career executives should do in preparation for and during the transition. That, to me, is a gaping hole to be filled.

Let me offer an initial proposal to move discussion, and action, forward. I suggest that every SES start, in early 2016, preparing background material showing historic trends on key performance and other relevant indicators for the multiple goals of their organizations; describing strategies used to bring about improvement; discussing what worked well and what did not; and examining what worked well in other countries doing similar work and at the sub-national level. After the election, pull together a list of specific options and goals informed by the campaign of the winning candidate, done in the context of the realities of the law and resources.

Perhaps you have done this for past transitions. If so and it worked well, please share. If not, try doing this for the upcoming transition and then start discussing with your SES colleagues how to do it better in the future.

I cannot resist the temptation to suggest another transition-focused SEA/SES project: helping the federal government figure out how to use the phased retirement law as intended, a flexible tool that retains the intelligence and experience of knowledgeable and skilled federal employees who want to work on specific problems and mentor the next generation of public servants while enjoying more personal time.

I know many hope that, even after leaving SEA, Carol will take on her own sort of phased retirement, continuing to contribute some of her time, intellect, and energy to improving government. I sure hope so.

From the November 2015 issue of the ACTION newsletter.

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