Wednesday, November 5, 2014

We Are The Government, You and I.

“The government is us; we are the government, you and I.” —Theodore Roosevelt

The following post appeared first on the Emerging Local Government Leaders site.

Hi, everybody!  Since I’ve successfully avoided the hip introduction template on thus far, here’s an introduction to the person (Kitty Wooley) behind the voice in this new column.   Recently I retired after 19 years in Federal Government, the most recent 17 of which were spent as an analyst in Washington, DC.  Nowadays, I live in Colorado Springs and travel to both coasts.  Unlike many of you, I didn’t begin with a public administration degree, nor was I focused on public service or the greater good when I joined the U.S. Department of Education’s Region IX office in San Francisco as a student financial aid program reviewer in 1994.  I simply needed a job, having spent a total of nine months out of the prior 3 years in the unemployment line following a layoff and then a career school closure. 

However, it wasn’t long before those of us who started together – college financial aid directors, a college business officer, and an attorney – began to get into harness.  The harness was one of stewardship, of fiduciary responsibility to the people.  In our case, that meant ensuring that Title IV grants and loans were carefully administered on campuses in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii to make it possible for less affluent students to pay for college and graduate.  After my transfer to DC to help bring up a risk management system, the harness remained the same although the job description changed.  A few years later, one five-month period was consumed by long-distance handholding with courageous yet nervous university financial aid staffs and I.T. developers and some software vendors, the early adopters of a radically new system for processing Pell Grants and Direct Loans.  A few years later, I moved from Federal Student Aid to the Office of Management, a collection of important nuts-and-bolts functions such as HR, facilities and fleet management, building and personnel security, and so on.

You may be sensing a pattern.  As I cycled between external and internal focus, I realized that it was all us – that we really were the government, you and I.  And that it mattered a lot that we all did the very best we could.  We in local, state, and federal government and we in the neighborhood ­– human beings who want to go home at night to relax, to raise our children or take care of our parents or tend our gardens or serve on boards or run marathons or learn how to weld or speak another language or–.  We, together.  The Emerging Local Government Leaders network epitomizes that reality in a dynamic way.  In the next few months it will be my pleasure to offer what I hope will be useful support for your public service effort. 

To begin, I’d like to ask whether you’ve seen the op-ed David Brooks wrote last month, Goodbye Organization Man.  What struck me was the following:

“Now nobody wants to be an Organization Man. We like start-ups, disrupters and rebels. Creativity is honored more than the administrative execution. Post-Internet, many people assume that big problems can be solved by swarms of small, loosely networked nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. Big hierarchical organizations are dinosaurs.  […]  When the boring tasks of governance are not performed, infrastructures don’t get built. Then, when epidemics strike, people die.”

After having experienced the mundane reality and sheer labor that goes into governance and building public infrastructure, most of us have a feel for how difficult it can be.  But, boy, is it critical not to have that ugly bridge that was too challenging to maintain fail while we’re driving across the river!  And, although we take FDIC insurance completely for granted, we would be devastated if a bank failed and our deposits were lost.  On the other hand, some structures and processes don’t work well enough any more, and when the situation is so entrenched that they can’t be shaken up or dismantled and rebuilt, things get worse and worse for customers and employees.  And, some government organizations have so many layers, or are so siloed (or both) that they damage employee morale through excessive constraint, kill internal innovation, discourage knowledge transfer and continuous improvement, and subject citizens to unnecessary bureaucratic torture rather than simply providing what they need and are due. 

David Brooks seems to be worried that the pendulum is swinging too far, too fast, and he fears that established governance infrastructure, if abandoned by the public, cannot be replaced by smaller ad hoc networks that don’t have the scale, experience, or ability to convene all stakeholders in the face of a large, threatening event and then carry out the tasks that will restore order.  Recent commentary by Silicon Valley analyst and founder Jeremiah Owyang shows that this is not an empty fear.  Although your current vantage point may not make it easy to see the collaborative economy that is coming in, it would be wise to add this phenomenon to your environmental scanning and consider where such disruption would be constructive, if painful – and where it would inflict permanent damage to the commons.  Mayors are sometimes blindsided, and even unseated, by voters over mundane issues such as unsatisfactory snow removal or unfilled potholes, so it doesn’t do to be complacent about processes that no longer work well.  Do you have questions or a different point of view on this subject?  If so, please consider posting a comment. Thanks for your time.    


View Senior Fellows and Friends Events to Date


Friday, December 6, 2013

What reality will we choose in the coming year?

Portal to new growth in 2014.  Let's go together!
Welcome, All!  As you can see, the blog has become a bit of a junk drawer.  Although the events continued this year, guest posts were on hiatus.  Coming changes include:
  • Routine inclusion, at a distance, of a few participants who can't be in DC for SFF events
  • Development of a more useful web site
  • Resumption of guest posts by thoughtful colleagues who have something to say. (Does that include you?)
You who are attracted by the events, please email me at kittywooley5 [at] gmail [dot] com.  The events involve breaking bread together, are smallish, and are invitation-only -- they depend on mutual trust, positive intention, collegial open-mindedness, and wholehearted participation.  And if you would like to contribute a guest post, then let's talk about that. 

In the meantime, please consider the following.  Take care.

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
― Dalai Lama XIV    

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gail Williams, Leadership Innovator at NASA

Gail Williams enjoyed a 36+-year career at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  She retired in September 2010 and is now an Emeritus at Goddard.  We'll convene with Gail for dinner and discussion on October 29th, 2012.

Gail started a 21-year acquisition management career in 1974, beginning as a GS-5 entry-level contract specialist.  She rose through the ranks to middle management after serving as the Chief of the Procurement Support Division, as well as Acting Procurement Officer.  In 1995, she began a 14-month detail at the Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), returning to Goddard in 1996 as the Special Assistant to the Goddard’s Chief Financial Officer managing the Center’s Workforce Refocusing Program.

As part of her Workforce Refocusing Program responsibilities, in 1997 Gail was tasked with organizing “Focus on Our Future Day” at two NASA Goddard locations.  All Goddard employees were encouraged to learn about Goddard’s future direction and how to effectively support large scale change.  An outgrowth of this activity was the establishment of the Center Director’s Colloquia Series – now award winning and 15 years old.  The series is currently known as the Exploring Leadership Colloquia Series.

While supporting Goddard’s Office of the CFO, Gail was asked to lead an Agency-wide activity to develop competency based career development guidelines for the almost 1,000 financial and budget people at NASA.  This resulted in a several-year commitment and the development of guidance that was labeled a Federal Best Practice by the U.S. CFO Council.

In 2001, the Goddard CFO asked Gail lead an effort and to design a leadership development program for the financial and resources management community of ~350 people at Goddard.  This resulted in a 7-year stint as Program Manager for Goddard’s award winning Leadership Alchemy Program.  Leadership Alchemy was a transformational, state-of-the-art program that earned national and international recognition for the benefits derived by both the participants and the organization.  When speaking at the first national Followership Conference at Claremont-McKenna University on the impact of Leadership Alchemy, Gail was asked to write an article that was subsequently published in the book The Art of Followership.  The article is titled “The Hero’s Journey to Effective Followership and Leadership:  A Practitioner’s Focus.”  Gail was a guest contributor to The Washington Post's "On Leadership Column."

Over time, Gail’s job in the OCFO morphed into supporting strategic and cultural change and leadership development.  She served as an internal consultant to the CFO and the entire CFO management team. In the spring of 2009, Gail joined the Office of Human Capital Management as the Special Assistant to the Director of Human Capital.  She served as Program Manager for the newly awarded Leadership Development and Excellence in Management Program.

Gail’s undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of Connecticut and a Masters in Public Administration from the Maxwell School.  In October 2000, Gail earned a certificate in organizational learning from George Mason University and is certified as a coach by The Newfield Network. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Business of Community

What do the Bank of America, Susan G. Komen Foundation and the government of Egypt have in common? For each of them, online conversations extended and ignited activism that forced them to alter decisions about products, policies and leadership. Networked communication environments are creating unprecedented opportunities for individuals and groups to be heard and every organization should be paying attention.

The speed of information access and distribution, fueled by cheap and pervasive technology, is driving a profound need to change our organizations and management approaches. Social business is an effort to make organizations more human, adaptive and resilient in order to mitigate risks and address new opportunities. At its core, social business is about optimizing our human resources, which are now the most critical and expensive asset for all organizations.  On September 18th, Rachel will share lessons learned and stories to connect these macro issues to the changes organizations are making at the operational level, including the critical role of community structures.

Rachel Happe (@rhappe) is a co-founder and principal at The Community Roundtable, a company dedicated to advancing the business of community. The Community Roundtable provides education, training, and advisory services to community and social business leaders. Rachel has over fifteen years of experience working with emerging technologies including enterprise social networking, eCommerce, and enterprise software applications. Rachel has served as a product executive at Mzinga, Bitpass, & IDe, and as IDC’s first analyst covering social technologies. She started her business career as an analyst at PRTM, after a stint working in the office of the Deputy Chief of Navel Operations the Pentagon. Rachel serves on the Enterprise 2.0 Conference Advisory Board and as an Isis Parenting Fellow. She writes at and

Sunday, July 22, 2012

SES or "Manager of One" - Federal Leadership Opportunities Abound

Do you aspire to a formal leadership position within your organization?  You know - leading people and managing work, whether as a supervisor, manager or executive.  If the answer is yes, is your aspiration rooted in a genuine desire and feeling that this is your path?  Or, does it spring from a feeling that only the formal organizational leaders get respect and top pay, can make change, and are offered interesting opportunities? 

There is a way for you to craft a satisfying career as a nonsupervisory “Manager of One,” no matter where you are in the organization, that also preserves your options.  As Fried & Hansson (37 Signals), suggest in their New York Times Bestseller, Rework:
Managers of one are people who come up with their own goals and execute them. They don’t need heavy direction. They don’t need daily check-ins. They do what a manager would do – set the tone, assign items, determine what needs to get done, etc. – but they do it by themselves and for themselves.
Does this mean you can cowboy off into the sunset and do your own thing?  Absolutely not.  You must be in close alignment with organizational goals and objectives in order to understand how your actions can lead to results that will matter to the 314 million people we serve.  Some people resemble the Fried & Hansson description coming into the organization, whereas others develop over time the ability to make things happen from any position that plays to their strengths.  Effective preparation for either path (Senior Executive Service or Manager of One) begins with a willingness to push beyond one's comfort zone, the development of competence and confidence based on small wins, and a permanent shift into continuous learning mode.

Keep an eye on the 2012 Next Generation of Government Training Summit site, where all sorts of resources that can support your path toward either goal - SES or "Manager of One" - will be posted in the days following the July 26-27 conference.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Retooling and Refreshing to Set Yourself Apart

The following is an excerpt of a story I wrote for a new book called The Insider’s Guide to Supervising Government Employees, edited by Kathryn M. Johnson (Management Concepts Press 2011). The book is a collection of stories from many supervisors whose purpose is to help government supervisors (new and seasoned alike) navigate their responsibilities and challenges more successfully. It covers several key areas including understanding yourself, getting the best work from others, and supervising in a changing work landscape. In this particular story, I illustrate the importance of ongoing self-development to help supervisors continue to achieve success in their role. In my upcoming book, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ASTD Press, expected pub. date April 2012), I describe in much greater detail both the value and suggested approaches for many development methods that happen outside the classroom.

Chris’ excitement was through the roof when he learned that he had been promoted. Finally! He was now officially a supervisor of a newly formed team in his agency. Chris felt a quiet confidence in his ability to excel as he emailed his mentor, Soo-Lin, to share the good news with her. After they scheduled their next monthly “coffee talk” meeting, Chris sat at his desk making lists of ideas and action items.

A few weeks later, Soo-Lin relaxed into her chair as she congratulated Chris once again on his accomplishment and listened to his tales of his first month as a supervisor. Sipping her coffee, she listened to his stories of excitement and frustration from her perspective of having been in supervisory roles in the federal government for the past 20 years.

“What are you doing to ramp up your supervisory skills, Chris?” Soo-Lin inquired.
“What do you mean?” asked Chris.
“Well, you have a whole new skill set you need to acquire, and fast. You will certainly learn on the job, but what are you doing to proactively enhance your skills?”
“I’m not sure I have any ideas. What do you suggest?” said Chris, looking at Soo-Lin quizzically.

Over the next hour, Soo-Lin shared with Chris some of the resources that she found helpful, including books, seminars, and training classes. But it was the story she told him that really got Chris thinking about how to keep his skills and knowledge fresh now and into the next stages of his career development.

“You know, when I first got promoted, there were no supervisory training classes offered and no resources given to me to prepare me for my new role. I had to learn as I went, the hard way. Things went very well for the first couple of years and my hard work was rewarded and rewarding.

“But then, things began to shift. I was no longer getting the results I wanted from my staff. They seemed unmotivated and deflated, and I felt frustrated with my job. I applied the same techniques that had worked before, but they were just not working in the same way. I felt really stuck and unhappy. Word got around that there might be a reorganization in our department and I started to worry that I might lose my job.

“That’s when I began to realize that I had become stale; my skills and knowledge were not sufficient to produce the performance results I wanted to see. I felt baffled and lost, so I started reading every management book in the library, searching for answers. I also started looking for role models to talk with, both inside and outside my office and agency. I was amazed how happy these successful supervisors were to share their ‘best practices’ and ‘lessons learned’ with me, and it was great to learn from them about things I could do or avoid doing—and not have to learn them the hard way! One told me that he attends the monthly meetings of our field’s professional association to learn new techniques and connect and network with other professionals with whom he collaborates and shares ideas. So I started attending these meetings also—what an eye-opening experience!

“What I learned, slowly but surely, is that your skills and knowledge need to be constantly upgraded and challenged. You can never rest on your laurels just because you have reached a certain rung on the career ladder; you need to keep working or you’ll find yourself falling off—or getting pushed off. And there are so many different ways available to help you retool, refresh, and learn.”

This is an exciting time to be a supervisor. You have the opportunity to influence others in a changing landscape. You will be challenged to handle day-to-day issues effectively in the context of an ever-evolving work environment. The best way to create a balance that serves both your employees and your organization well is to keep strengthening your personal capabilities as a supervisor. Only then will you be ready and able to help others envision and prepare to meet the demands of the 21st century government work environment.

More to Think About and Try
  • What are some books, training, and other resources you could access to upgrade your supervisory skills? Are there resources that would help you on an ongoing, continuous basis?
  • Who are some key people who could help you learn and develop your supervisory skills? Are there any groups you could join or people in your current network you could tap to become your mentors or “master-mind” group?
  • Can you branch out and increase your network to include role models and kindred spirits?
  • Can you find opportunities to bring supervisors together? Who can—and is willing to—share their lessons learned?
Excerpted with permission from The Insider’s Guide to Supervising Government Employees, edited by Kathryn M. Johnson. © 2011 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved.

Halelly Azulay is president of TalentGrow, a consulting company focused on developing leaders and teams to improve the human side of work through training, teambuilding, and coaching. She is the author of the upcoming book, Employee Development on a Shoestring, to be published in April 2012.