Executive Suite: What kind of manager are you?

Mimi Browning

Are you a rock, gem or shooting star? Each is a metaphor for a particular competitive strategy in the federal workplace. What are their individual characteristics and strategies, and how can you assess your talents and aspirations accordingly?

First, there is the entrenched, but mostly beloved, rock. In any organization, there are a number of rocks who will not budge or change. They remain in their jobs until retirement or their horizontal departure. It is a toss-up as to whether these people are bedrocks of institutional wisdom or impediments to progress. As such, management either lionizes or vilifies them'often both.

Regardless, rocks exist and the rigorous defense of the status quo is their strategy for staying competitive. They exemplify the notion that most Americans want their government to be stable, risk-averse and enduring.

If your goal is to be a rock, then longevity and decision avoidance are your career development goals. Couple these with a congenial personality, and you'll be viewed as a legendary rock for life. Be forewarned, however, that rock billets are limited and you may have to seek other strategies to be competitive.

Then we find gems, the heart and soul of the federal work force. Gems shine, are indispensable and provide a major source of energy and inspiration. You can identify these competitive gems because they are the individuals who have mastered the art of finding the right job and performing well in that job.

Gems know that work force competition is not about personal best. It is how they fare compared to and in the eyes of the individuals around them.

To be a gem, you should find the right job and fit, one where you have the credentials to do the job well and are viewed as a valued team player. If either the function or fit is wrong, no matter how talented you are, you will not be competitive. A 5-carat diamond will not shine in a plastic setting.

In today's work environment, the complexities and inter-relatedness of work require team synergy. Gems, by shining for all, shine for themselves.

Finally, there is the short-lived shooting star. For many, being a valued jewel in the organizational crown is as competitive as they wish to be. But some high achievers seek to be shooting stars. This demands leadership talents. Such talents include vision, optimism, personal integrity, the ability to motivate others positively, intellectual and emotional flexibility, superb communications skills, and an understanding of the human and political factors in any situation.

Shooting stars take risks, make mistakes and sometimes live in organizational purgatory. But when the sun sets, they can proudly say they have moved people, ideas and organizations ahead. Shooting stars exist for only a short but wondrous time.

In sum, job competition has less to do with courses you take or supervisors you flatter because in the end your peers, not your bosses, will get you ahead. It is about your willingness to learn and change, function and fit in a particular job, and whether you wish to brave the safety of a comfortable job for possible executive glory.

Mimi Browning is a former Army senior executive who is currently a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va. She can be reached at browning_miriam@bah.com.

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