Leadership Lessons from a CIO’s Hairdresser

Just before I started working as the Deputy CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), I had to get a security clearance.  The special agent doing my background investigation called me up and asked for the phone number of my hairdresser, Peggy Marshall.  I paused … and told him … that’s a low blow dude.  He said you’d be surprised what you can learn from a person’s hairdresser.  You’d be surprised indeed – even leadership lessons. 

She is a hardworking business woman who learned her work ethic from a farm in what used to be rural Clinton, Maryland.  As the farms disappeared and the Washington, DC suburbs began to expand, she started her own business and hair salon, Peggy’s Beauty World.  After many successful years, she sold her business and maintains a very small loyal clientele in her semi-retirement. 

Two weeks ago, she asked me about how things were going at work and what’s the job of a CIO is like.  As she stood over my head, she said, she probably wouldn’t understand because after all, she’s “just a hairdresser”.  Startled, I turned around and looked at her and began to tell her what she already understood.

Here are some of the lessons.

Customer Service

After retirement, she established a small licensed set up in her home.  It was her goal to keep a small subset of her faithful clients and offer them flexible personalized service.  I have been in to see her 10:00 pm on Sunday night; or 5:00 am Monday morning before work; a few hours before I leave town; or even in 911-hair emergencies.  If you don’t like your hair, she will do it again.  She’s even been known to make house calls on her clients that are not mobile.  I’ve often asked her how things are going during these difficult financial times.  So far, things are going well for her.

Mark Cummuta, in a CIO.COM blog “How to Avoid a Layoff” advises CIOs that to get through these difficult financial times, one should focus on customer service to avoid layoffs.  By doing so, your customers will become your strongest advocates during times of trouble.  He goes on to say:

Let me explain. No matter what job or position you have, you always have customers – whether they be internal managers, peers, business units, branch offices, downstream partners, QA teams, PMOs, sales teams, etc. – that rely on what you produce. They may not even know it, but in today’s economic turmoil, it’s to your benefit to know who they are and to make sure they know what you can and do, in fact, do for them!

Leading and Managing People

As a beauty shop owner, she has hired, trained, and mentored many young women.  She has employed a diverse set of people, from urban divas to seasoned professionals.  She has hired, fired, dealt with tears, fears, and jeers.  Yet, through all of this, she maintained a high quality business that was known for ethical, family-oriented, and high-quality services.

The CIO has a challenging problem of motivating her employees.  The organization spends a lot of time managing projects, justifying IT budgets, and delivering service.  Many times, in service delivery, it is difficult to be noticed unless something goes wrong.   The Maytag repairman has the challenge of being forgotten because of the high quality of his product. 

Career Passion

Peggy is passionate about hair.  She absolutely loves doing her job.  In her youth, as she tried to figure out what she would do for a living, her mother admonished her asking her why does she need to figure this out? She already loved doing hair, just do that.  Before she sold her business, I can recall days where she was extremely busy and had to be on her feet for nearly 10 hours.  Still smiling at the end of the day, she said, you never get tired when you are doing something that you love.  It gives you energy. 

Passion and hard work are keys to success.  Martha Beck, in Finding Your Own North Star, describes The Hero’s Saga where ordinary people, take pragmatic steps to create the magic of turning their longing and intention into reality.  I absolutely love the TV show Heroes.  My idea of a dream vacation will be to catch up on whole seasons of this show.  The show is about the lives of ordinary people who discover that they have extraordinary talents and gifts.  Gifts + passion = magic

Without passion, you don’t have energy; without energy, you have nothing. Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion
     – Donald Trump –

To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.
     – Anatole France –

I couldn’t believe that Peggy told me that she was just a hairdresser.   Approximately every two weeks she doesn’t just turn this bird’s nest on top of my head into pretty curls, but she gives me a little extra bit of inspiration that helps me create the magic of being a CIO. 

I love my hairdresser.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

3 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons from a CIO’s Hairdresser”

  1. This is absolutely a wonderful article and it is all true, because my it is my mother. She has installed a work ethic in us that is truly remarkable. We love her. Thanks for writing this wonderful article.

  2. How true! lot of things in life are so simple. I loved this article.

    Sanjeev (www.informachine.com)

Comments are closed.