Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

Blog archive

Federal Coach: Talking leadership with the head of the Maritime Administration

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

Paul “Chip” Jaenichen leads the Maritime Administration, where he's responsible for overseeing the Department of Transportation’s efforts to promote water transportation and the viability of the U.S. Merchant Marine. Jaenichen, who spent 30 years in the Navy, mostly in submarines, spoke with Tom Fox about bringing his military leadership style to the civilian sector, motivating employees and what he learned from Attila the Hun.

What is your leadership style?

People are people, whether they are in the military or civilians. Identifying their needs and focusing on their professional development, and then making sure you can motivate them to achieve the organization’s mission, is my focus. I also want to keep the organization moving forward. As a result, I typically make decisions very quickly, and I make those decisions based on recommendations from staff. Sometimes there is pressure when you’re working with imprecise data or without all the facts. So sometimes I have to reel myself back to make sure that I’m not trying to drive my organization too hard.

The Maritime Administration made significant improvement in the "Best Places to Work in the Federal Government" rankings last year. What do you do to engage the workforce?

I’ve made it a real point to engage literally all levels of the organization. I’m the guy who would rather walk into your office and ask you a question than get into an email exchange. I have two inboxes on my desk. One is for people, and the other is for stuff. The box that has people stuff in it—whether it’s vacation, or if someone had a tragedy in their family—I write a personal note to every one of them. If you take care of your people, your people will take care of you. I think what you’re seeing in those surveys is that the employees feel like they are appreciated and the work they do is appreciated. I think that makes the difference.

What other interactions do you have with your employees?

I have brownbag lunches with staff from all levels, and typically it’s a packed house. I do them every quarter. I also personally meet with every new employee and greet them and swear them in. It is about them and their service, and if you’re genuine about it, it makes an impact.

I also make an effort to learn everybody’s name. I meet them and get their first name and, if I see them anywhere around the building, I will take 2, 3, 4, 5 minutes or whatever it takes to talk to them and see how they’re doing and to make sure that it matters. It’s a personal touch, and it doesn’t take that much time, but it makes all the difference.

Do you have any time management tips?

You want to be ready for meetings because if you are not, it’s a waste of time for everybody. Typically I’m a stickler for staying on schedule.

Is there anything you keep on your desk for sentimental reasons?

Yes, I have a picture of my wife and two kids. My son is a Marine Corps pilot stationed in California. He’s a 2005 graduate of the Naval Academy. I’m very proud of him. And my daughter is working on her doctorate and she’s a teacher in a high school. My wife was a career teacher and now she’s a small business owner. She and her sister opened up a tea room in a 100-year-old house in Kentucky.

If you could do anything for work, what would it be?

I’d like to be a coach. I like getting a team to the end goal and making sure that they are successful. If I couldn’t be a coach, I’d want to be a consultant who goes into a troubled organization and helps to move it forward and reach organizational excellence. I have a very critical eye. I don’t allow mistakes.

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

I have a near photographic memory.

That’s a real gift, isn’t it?

It’s not a gift, because I can read things and remember where I read them and what side of the page they are on, but I can’t see all of it so sometimes it sends me on searches. There’s value because I can recall a lot of facts quickly, but sometimes it’s just as much a bane of my existence as it is helpful.

What’s the one thing you’d like to be remembered for accomplishing?

I’ve always been more about the success of the organization and, more specifically, the success of the organization once you’ve left. If you did it right and you focused on career development and planning, in terms of who’s going to be in charge, and the organization continues to be successful, then I consider myself a success.

Have you ever read the book, “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun?”

No, why?

I used to have two books on my desk. One was Lincoln on Leadership and the other was Secrets of Attila the Hun. It is written as if Attila the Hun is talking. It talks about leadership and management, and I used it early in my career. I always asked people, “Do you learn more from a good leader or a bad leader?” The usual answer is the bad leader. When you have a bad leader and you are complaining about your boss, you really analyze a lot of the stuff that happens with that bad leader and you learn a lot.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Aug 19, 2015 at 6:09 AM

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