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Paul Lawrence talks with about Ernst & Young’s latest edition of Paths to Making a Difference: Leading in Government

By Rob Starr, Content Manager,

In the second edition of Paths to Making a Difference: Leading in Government, Ernst & Young’s government and public sector practice looks at management challenges of the political executive, insights on selecting the right appointees and techniques for selecting the right people.

Paul Lawrence, leader of the Federal Government Consulting Practice, Ernst & Young LLP, and author of Paths to Making a Difference: Leading in Government, recently spoke with about this new effort as anticipation grows around the changes expected at the agency level in Obama’s second term.

“What we tend to do as part of the Government and Public Sector practice is work with government to supply some expertise,” he told us. “What I always observed was the role of the political executive. We set out to understand not only the jobs but the people in the jobs. Not only for us but to share with others.” Lawrence went on to say that he noticed there wasn’t a lot of information available at first to help people understand the nature of these jobs and how they were best managed.

Current Edition  

The current edition of Paths is based on a three year study of 32 of the top political appointees in the first Obama administration. Featuring both case studies and interviews, the book addresses specific managerial challenges while tracking the learning curve of executives.

“We set out to interview people while they were in their job over time,” Lawrence said. “In the first edition we got 24 political executives to work with us and for two years we interviewed them about every six months.”

The response was so positive the publisher asked for a second edition. When work was underway on the current version, Lawrence noticed some reoccurring themes developing from the results.

“There were two things that continued to come back,” he said. “Even though this class of jobs seems very similar (high level people who lead the US Federal Government), the jobs are really very different and the range of skills needed in those jobs is really very, very different.”

Scientific Issues.

One of the groups that emerged from the research were called scientists.

“There are agencies in the United States government that work with scientific issues like the National Institute of Science and Technology,” Lawrence said adding that the best people in this category built their skill set specifically to lead others in these fields.

Another finding from Paths to Making a Difference: Leading in Government centered around another group called producers.

“These are the people that run things the federal government has to do, like provide financial aid or process our tax forms,” Lawrence said noting the skill sets needed here are very different from those needed in the scientists classification.

Building on these benchmarks, the book was able to debunk one previously held belief about professionals and their career goals.

School of Thought  

“There used to be a school of thought that smart, clever people who had successful careers could do anything, but when you dig under the covers you see the jobs are so different that’s just not true anymore,” he said.

Lawrence said the second theme dealt with the fact governments need to examine closely the experience people have and then tie it to the position’s requirements.

Finally, he noted that, like in many other positions, experience was a great asset.

“With situations that might otherwise seem chaotic or hectic, we observed that people who have dealt with the issues before are less overwhelmed,” he said, citing the example of the person who had come from being a union official with mining organizations and ran Mine Health and Safety Administration when Paths to Making a Difference: Leading in Government was being put together.














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