Cliff Makes His Move: Planting Leadership Seeds

Our beloved integration manager and NASA’s universally-acknowledged expert on the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is moving on to better position.  He got a fine send-off that would be the envy of most geeks – submarine sandwiches, cookies, and soda.  Napkins are for wimps, that’s what shirts are for.  But Cliff is no wimp.

Losing Cliff is rough, especially considering that shortly after that we got news that we were losing Omar – the Shaquille O’Neal of financial management.  After my initial bout of anxiety and stress, I realize that his legacy is left behind to continue to bear fruit grow and the seeds of his leadership will sprout anew in another organization. 

Cliff recognized one of John C. Maxwell’s laws of leadership: the law of empowerment.  As he leaves NASA, he made sure that he left people behind who understood his job.  He knows that “if you give some of your power away to others, there’s still plenty to go around”. Leaders who do this must be secure, humble, and be willing to embrace change.

One of my best mentoring moments came from a retired Air Force General.  He gave me advice early in my CIO career about planting my seeds.  I recall him telling me that I needed to “sprinkle them all over” and water them.  They will grow and bear fruit.  I recently saw the result of how he did this. I was with a group of employees of a company he retired from.  They snapped to attention and had so much respect and admiration for him and what he wanted to do.  I whispered to one of them tongue-in-cheek because I knew the answer.  I said, “Hey, you don’t work for him anymore!” He responded, “Are you kidding, we all do, for life!” Yes, that’s how the seeds of leadership work. 

Yes, we will miss Cliff.  He taught smart people how to learn, good people to be better, and high achievers to do even more.  But, the seeds of his leadership will grow into a mighty capability for NASA.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA



My Winter of Discontent 2011: NASA CTOs at CES

CIOs need to remember that people in their organizations – their customers — are all consumers.  CIOs shouldn’t be content in their ability to rule their world as expectations of consumers continue to creep into the workplace.  The Consumer Electronic Show (CES) gives us an opportunity to peek into the future and see what potential expectations may visit the workplace.

When I went last year, it was just before I was in the market for a new car.  I stood in the middle of the convention center floor with my mouth hanging open.  After a few months, my husband got an index card and asked me for my “requirements” for the new vehicle.  The first thing I said was … Windows 7 … and if not that, all the technology I can get — cheap. 

I decided not to go this year but I subscribed to the email list for the NASA CTOs and they are at the Consumer Electronics Show 2011 right now.  You have to love these guys – they are pretty chatty, observant, and opinionated – in a positive way, of course – my inbox runneth over.  But, the constant “ding-ding-ding” of my Smartphone just makes my heart go pitter-patter.  (Actually, I heard more from them this year than last year because there were SO many connected people at the venue last year it made my cellular communication a wee bit erratic)

Moving beyond the typical pronouncements and opinions about premature release of technology, less than stellar capabilities, and other disappointments there are some common themes that are emerging from this group of techno-illuminati.  Things are changing at a faster pace; everything is connected; and standards are slow to emerge. 

Here is just a taste of the consumer issues that need to drive CIO (crazy) strategic planning this year:

Cars with wi-fi hotspot technology – If folks start getting this in their car, you better figure out how to get it (securely) in all the right places in the workplace.  Little things mean a lot.  At NASA/Goddard our new professionals were ecstatic to have the capability at a nice shady outside pavilion; at NASA/HQ, I’m personally tickled pink that there is connectivity in the parking garage; and at NASA/Johnson, they have a cozy little spot in their cafeteria. 

A telescope that lets you see thousands of years into the past – It is also reported to have a database of over 4000 celestial bodies.  Of course this would have to get the attention of any NASA CIO.   Maybe not much excitement when compared with a Hubble Telescope which can see over 13 billion years, but it makes you wonder where the technology is heading.

Woo-hoo for the potential of cloud delivered content – This will give consumers the ability to get to data independent of the device.  Content owners will get the shakes about intellectual property rights and CIOs will get the willies about information security.  Relative to what multimedia companies are facing, I feel very hopeful that the financial potential will drive some breakthroughs in the management of this content.  That’s good news for today’s CIOs who are exploring ways to manage content in the cloud. 

A thought comes to mind from J.F. Cummings How to Rule the World: Lessons in Conquest for the Modern Prince, a satirical yet strangely instructive book that can give CIOs insight into why handwringing discontent needs to yield to proactive rapid strategic planning.  In a chapter where there is a discussion of how to thwart science and technology’s effectiveness in the “Your subject nation-state”, the reader is reminded, in a tongue-in-cheek way that “Your goal is to turn a nation-state of proactive thinkers into a band of agitated, anxiety-ridden reactionaries”. 

So, as winter ends and the hope of spring begins, IT leaders can close their mouths, dry their tears and begin to plan for this new world before they are reduced to becoming bewildered and reactive subjects of a modern princess.

Linda Cureton, NASA CIO