Sourcing Strategies and Innovation – Diversity and Inclusion Create Big and Strong Organizations

We mostlythink of diversity and inclusion issues as it relates to people andorganizations.  The benefit of thinkingin this dimension comes from bringing in groups of people with a broad range ofexperiences, styles, and approaches to solve organizational problems increative ways.  

The sameapplies to sourcing strategies for plugging in outside organizations with ourown.  This is relevant to contracting,partnerships, and strategic alliances. Sourcing strategies give us the opportunity to reflect on the strengthsand challenges of our organizations and be intentional about what kind ofoutside company can provide the biggest advantage.  These successful strategies are key tobuilding an organization that is constantly learning and organicallyinnovative. 

ClaytonChristensen in “Innovator’s Dilemma: WhenNew Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail” talks about the factors that affectan organization’s ability to be creative and innovative.  These three factors which “…affect what an organizationcan and cannot do [are] its resources, its process, and its values.”  He goes on to say that large companies usuallyreject promising opportunities because smaller companies are better positionedfinancially, culturally, and process-wise to pursue them.  

Many of usspend a lot of time bemoaning the fact that it is so difficult to innovate orleverage technology in government because of how we budget, procure, and bureaucratize. But is it really that bad?  

The Officeof Management and Budget (OMB) put out an intriguing memo.  For those non-bureaucrats, we live and die byOMB memos – we even give them names and numbers.  It’s sort of like when your mother tells youto do something – always listen to your Mom. This memo is commonly known as Mythbusters. Here, myth #10 tells that tells us tothat getting broad participation from a variety of vendors is good for us.  If we do this, we’ll grow up to be big andstrong – Mom, uh… I mean OMB has a point here. Here’s the fact: 

”The government loseswhen we limit ourselves to the companies we already work with. Instead, we needto look for opportunities to increase competition and ensure that all vendors,including small businesses, get fair consideration. “

Successfulleaders will create an ecosystem where strategic partnerships exist in whicheach partner or vendor has an important role to play.  Consider a shipping analogy – after all, forthose who know me, it’s all about cruising. 

Large shipstend to be slow and difficult to maneuver. They are like agencies or large companies with entrenched culturaltraditions and a heritage of processes. These ships need the help of pilot boats or tug boats to help them maneuvertight channels or clear reefs in order to have a successful journey.  These smaller ships are like smaller agenciesor small businesses that are able to go into places the big guys can’t fit andare nimble, quick, and flexible.  Finally,we have yachts and other small pleasure boats that can run circles aroundeveryone – like the tender boats that ferry people back and forth to shore muchmore effectively and safely than the big guys can.  

Whether you’rea Harvard Business School professor, a Mom, or a frequent cruiser, the value ofthe variety and capabilities that we apply to sourcing work in organizations isa key to success.  

LindaCureton, CIO, NASA



The Leadership of the Horse Holder

We can learna lot about leadership from horse holders.   They show us the importance of leading frombehind.  Many associate leadershipsuccess with fame, fortune recognition, and scores of admiring followers.  But, we need to remember the inspirationalinstruction from these vital leaders who are often alone and nearlyundetectable. 

Horseholders perform essential duties in a battlefield.  During combat, the noise from cannons andguns would spook the hoofed infantry causing them to run away from their ridersto safety.  These loyal horsemen wouldstand in the rear dutifully clutching the reins preserving this most valuablebattle commodity. 

Leading frombehind describes a leadership style that puts others first.  It understands the value of nurturing andtaking care of followers.  Itaccomplishes much while taking credit for very little.  These leaders are dependable, trustworthy,and extremely competent.  They performlike the quarterback who throws the winning touchdown pass but acts like acheerleader encouraging and praising the victorious receiver. 

The poem The General’s Mount: a Poem on GeneralForrest’s Horse describes a civil war general’s horse and in it we see thehorse holder’s bittersweet perspective of service and duty:


Stunned and trembling

From the shock andpain.

Jaded. Limping to theholders in the rear.

No bugles and nodrumbeats here,

Only fading soundsacross the field.

THE HOLDERS slipped thebridle

From his lowered head,

Wiped the sweat marks fromhis cheeks and neck.

Bathed the blood-redfoam from mouth and nostrils,

Sponged his wounds,

Applied a stingingointment.

They washed his knees andhocks and pasterns.


Ancient philosopherLao Tzu describes them as the besttype of leader who people do not notice and “… When the best leader’s work isdone, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’ To lead the people, walk behindthem.” Maybe what the world and the workplace need now are more horse holders –these unsung heroes who are critical in every victorious battle and standing inthe rear. 


Linda Y.Cureton, NASA CIO

Reaching for the Stars

I just came back from a Mother’s Day cruise with Mom.  While there, I unexpectedly ran into a former colleague from an old job.  Mercifully, we didn’t talk about work; we talked about shooting craps in the casino.  She wanted me to teach her and her friend to play.  I thought, this is going to be a challenge – her technical specialty was in IT security and her friend was an attorney.  How are these two obviously risk-averse individuals going to handle the perilous world of gambling?  On a much larger and complex scale, it sounds like the challenges we face as an agency.   

There couldn’t be a better time to work for NASA than to witness history being made as we plan what life will be like for humans beyond low Earth orbit.  As quiet as it’s kept, NASA is a bureaucratic agency.  But, don’t get me wrong, being bureaucratic isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Here’s why.

Bureaucracy was a positive construct for large complex organizations that needed to have high levels of mission success and operate as efficiently as possible.  Bureaucracy cares about ensuring safety, eliminating risk to human life, and having stewardship over expensive resources and capital.  The processes and procedures in place in a bureaucracy are well-suited for tasks and activities too large and complex for any one person to know.  And it also distributes authority so that one person isn’t the sole decision-maker.  The foundation of our government was built on this principal.  We want a government that is for the people, we want to be protected as efficiently as we can, and we want separation of powers so that no one person can be king. 

Yet, the downside of bureaucracy becomes apparent as we attempt to lean forward in innovative ways.  It is difficult to do things where there are no processes defined, new roles and responsibilities are needed, and the increase in risk is demanded.  Though creating an innovative bureaucracy seems at one extreme an oxymoron and at the other an over-simplification of what needs to be done it MUST to be done through innovating processes and procedures, defining new roles and responsibilities, and developing new technology and capabilities. 

I guess I should report how my little bureaucrats did at the crap table.  First, we simulated actual game playing with a craps application on the laptop.  In a safe environment, we learned the rules – enough of them anyway – though the attorney wanted to know all of them.  We learned how to place bets, but the computer game was a little quirky in letting you accidently bet someone else’s money.  The IT security guru had to think that through a bit then realized with actual money, there were security cameras all over the casino and the dealers were watchful. 

When it was time to actually play, the risk would be limited to $200, but the fun would be greater than that.  They figured out how to follow their intuition and take action on what they believed.  The value of a team of people around the table with the same mission and focus was something immeasurable yet invaluable.  Crapping out wasn’t so bad if you earned money in the process.  The sweetest words of the evening were “ladies, pick up your winnings”.  They loved every second of it and smiled brightly as they reached for their chips. 

In due time, NASA will lean forward with plans for the future.   The strength of our bureaucracy will be leveraged by the love of what we do and why we do it.  Yeah, there will need to be some chips on the table and we might crap out on a few rolls, but it won’t be so bad if we learn in the process and keep the losses acceptable.   It’s indeed a pleasure to be here as NASA reaches for the stars. 

Linda Cureton, CIO NASA

The Five People You Meet in CIO Leadership Heaven

The movie of a similar title is about an old man who dies and meets five people in heaven who affected his life though he didn’t necessarily realize it at the time.  In our personal and professional lives, we meet these people all the time.  Here are some of mine from an IT perspective – names have been fictionalized.

The Value of Enterprise Architecture from Jim – He was sort of a nutty guy.  But back in the day when Enterprise Architecture was all the rage, folks were spending millions of dollars to create thousands of pages that filled scores of notebooks for little or no value.  When I was totally fed up with spending all that money for nothing, I was ready to zero out the budget.  Jim helped me understand how I could get more value for much less money if we focused more on things that help people better plan and manage IT projects along a thoughtful strategy.  For example, a relatively small number of principles are more actionable than pages of analyses of alternatives. 

For NASA now, a principle that incorporates OMB IT reform guidance with the agency strategy would say, “We have a preference for cost effective cloud technologies”.  But, because the service providers’ landscape is changing so fast right now, by the time we developed a full blown technical reference model which defines service standards and available technologies, the information becomes out of date and useless. 

The Virtue of Resilience from Liz – She was really the boss from hell.  Working for her reminded me of when I worked in an infectious diseases lab – the job stunk and you had to be careful what you opened up because it could kill you. It was something new every day and I hated every single day working for her.  But, just as I was an inexperienced teenager working as a lab assistant, I needed to learn how to face the unknown and do risky, but important things. 

People in organizations face change in ways that feel like death.  Budgets get cut, programs end, and life goes on.  No one is ever grateful for these hellish experiences, but as we learn how to adapt and recover from the stresses and strains that we encounter in our lives, these experiences become invaluable.  In CIO heaven, I’ve learned not feigned appreciation for the hardships, but sincere gratitude for the opportunity to develop and grow and the humility to express heartfelt thanks to people like Liz.

The True Meaning of Customer Service from Dave the Helpdesk Guy – It was a dark and stormy night – it was really.  And I had just returned home from the airport after being on travel.  It was about 10:30 pm and I had to approve time sheets so folks could get paid and I needed to do it by midnight.  Exhausted and extremely stressed, I couldn’t remember my password or all the arcane steps to access the system securely via virtual private network (VPN).  We didn’t have a 24-hour helpdesk, but the service provider insisted that on-call support was just as good and cheaper.  Dave asked me for my name.  I didn’t want to give him my title of Deputy CIO; I just wanted to be a regular customer.  He needed me to spell my name – C-U-R-E-T-O-N.  His kids were screaming and he yelled at them to be quiet.  He repeated B-U-R-E-T-O-N? I said no, it starts with “C”.  He sarcastically said, well, that’s a good start.  I said, “What?” He said, “Does your name have more than one letter”.  I took a deep breath and got berated for forgetting my password, for the fact that he was in his car with his kids and I disturbed him. 

As we now deploy the Enterprise Service Desk at the NASA Shared Service Center, I rewind the tape and try to keep in my mind the perspective of the customer.  Sometimes helpdesks care more about closing a ticket to meet the resolution response time, than about customer care and fulfillment.  Dave cared more about himself and his situation than about mine.  The company he worked for cared more about response time than about the efficacy of being able to resolve problems from the front seat of a car.  Customer service isn’t the same as being self-serving.

The Real Meaning of Quality from Kathy – Kathy worked for a large company that manufactured computers.  They finally released a version of the operating system that gave us much-needed capability.  It removed an architectural limit that made it possible to use more memory and run bigger programs faster.  She was proud of the fact that they dropped a new release early and at lower cost.  Her quality product haunted me for weeks.  There was a bug in the code that caused me to work several nights of at least 24-hours straight sifting through 32 megabytes of hexadecimal machine code trying to figure out what was wrong with this quality. 

Her perspective of quality and mine were out of sync.  I expected something that actually worked.  She expected something that simply booted up and did so quickly.  Quality is in the eye of the beholder.  An anonymous quote says that, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after low pricing is forgotten.” Yes, it was cheap.  But, that cheap product was so costly, I couldn’t afford it.  And I will still remember the poor quality in CIO heaven.

The Genuine Significance of People You Lead from Luke – Luke is the kind of employee that you dream about.  He would do anything for you.  Well, I needed him for this particular assignment.  Yes, it meant that he would leave his spouse and son.  Yes, he would have to maintain two households and commute.  Yes, he would endure financial hardship and yes, he would do it willingly. 

We always say people are number one!  But, we actually treat them like they are number two – the mission first, then the people second.  Just because Luke was willing to do what I absolutely needed him to do, doesn’t mean I should ask him to do it. 

So these are my five people. I didn’t have to wait to get to heaven to understand how they and others had a positive effect on my life as a CIO.

Linda Cureton, NASA CIO

Women in History: Holding Up Half the Sky

NASA participated in a special event – Teaching Children to be Limitless — for Women’s History Month with Urban Zen and Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN).  I had the pleasure of participating in it.  We rotated through a series of tables answering questions from a group of school-aged children. 

There was one question that I got at nearly half the tables – do you want to go into space? The first time I got the question, my answer was, “No, I’m too old”.  Then a group, led by an 8-year old girl yelled at me irreverently, “What??? You can do ANYTHING you want to do!”  After that, my answer was YES.  There’s nothing like getting a taste of your own medicine by being yelled at by an 8-year old after you just gave them a dose of inspiration. 

When I was their age, I wanted to go into space.  But, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in space.  By the time I graduated from college, I was convinced that an overweight, nearsighted African American urban girl could never be an astronaut.  But, had I done my part, and reframed my own beliefs, perhaps, I could have been a first.

In her book It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor, Rebecca Shambaugh challenges us to examine our beliefs checking them to determine if they are limiting us in any way.  She goes on to say that “…in order to reach your potential, it’s essential to acknowledge the beliefs that you hold about yourself, as well as your belief about other people and the world around you.”  Shambaugh reminds readers to examine these self-beliefs periodically.  This sassy 8-year-old reminded me that it was time to examine my own again. 

Bessie Coleman was an American aviator who became the first African American fe

male pilot and the first person African American tohold an international pilot’s license.

Picture of Bessie Coleman

 She challenged herself and the belief of others to lead the way for others. In a story about her life Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator, Doris Rich, states that “… from the moment Bessie decided to become a pilot nothing deterred her.”  She “ignored all the difficulties of her sex and race, her limited schooling and present occupation.”

 “Because of Bessie Coleman, we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers.  We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.” — Lt. William J. Powell, Founder, Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs

A Chinese proverb says that “women hold up half the sky”.  It is important for NASA to inspire the next generation of all of the sky-holders — scientists, engineers, and explorers– to aim high and reach new heights for the improvement of humankind.  If we are going to do our part in holding up the sky, we have to get beyond the notion of a glass ceiling and change the self-limiting behaviors to reach these heights.  

Leadership of the Owl

As autumn nights started to approach, the air conditioning was turned off and the windows were opened.  The smell of the fresh fall air filled the room with a wonderful fragrance.  But, as I laid in darkness in another extended bout of insomnia, I couldn’t figure out what strange animal sound kept grabbing my attention nightly.  Finally, as I looked out the window later that week, I saw a strange bird flying around with an impressive wingspan.  It was an Owl.

In mythology, literature, and many belief systems, the qualities and characteristics of animals are often personified.  The traits of the Owl are behaviors that are associated with successful leaders — vision, insight, and wisdom. 


In organizations, leaders see and provide the vision that inspires people to make the impossible possible and drives people to work together as a team to accomplish what no one could do as individuals.  That vision becomes substance and results through faith, work, and resilience. 


Insight is defined as an instance of apprehending the true nature of a thing, especially through intuitive understanding.  Author John C. Maxwell in The 21 Indispensible Qualities of a Leader describes this in the qualities of discernment and problem solving.  Harlan Cleveland said that leaders are problem solvers by choice, talent and temperament.   They don’t know all of the answers, but they know how to seek answers to the right questions and stay focused long enough to obtain the desired results. 

Wisdom defines wisdom as “a deep understanding and realizing of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to choose or act to consistently to produce the optimum results with a minimum of time and energy.”  A wise person has self-knowledge, is sincere and direct with others, is asked for advice by others, and has actions that are consistent with their ethical beliefs.  Maxwell talks about this in his discussion on self-reliance, relationship, problem solving, and character. 

Andy Andrews in his book Mastering the Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success asserts that wisdom is “an intuitive element, an insight gained from personal experience that serves us as we make choices in our lives.”  Wisdom should not be mistaken for education.  It’s the aggregation of discrete bits of incomplete knowledge that the wise man transforms into a deep understanding. 

The insight, vision, and wisdom of the Owl leader come in the darkness of the night, during a time when many of us slumber.  I think I will give up my losing battle with insomnia and listen to the soothing hoot of the Owl as I drift away dreaming a little dream of leadership.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA


Yin and Yang Leadership

As I head into the fourth quarter of my first year as NASA CIO, I find myself in somewhat of a struggle between competing forces.  I have cried more in one month than I have in one year, but the tears are not bad tears, they are good tears actually. 

In a misguided way, we think that this leadership journey is supposed to be easy; that good leaders always have two choices – the right answers or the wrong answers; make the right decisions or make the wrong decisions; and do it with a smile and with courage like we all see in photographs and press releases.  But at the point of difficulty maybe right there in the tears and in the midst of the struggle, problems are solved…the impossible is made possible…and dreams become reality. Symbol of Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang describes opposing forces which flow in a natural way and always seek balance.  The two opposing forces flow in such a way that they become merely two aspects of a single reality.  Yin and Yang talks about extremes such as “dark” and “light”, “male” and “female”, “low” and “high”.    

From an organizational perspective, I see these opposing forces in issues like:

·         “being the best IT organization in Government” versus “just delivering service in an acceptable way”

·         “being innovative” versus “meeting expectations”

·         “delighting the customer” versus “meeting customer expectations”

·         “mission obsessed” versus “mission aligned”

In looking at these aspects of NASA’s IT strategy, folks on both sides have valid concerns.  Why should we strive to be the best when we can barely deliver email? Why should we think “out of the box” when we don’t have our box in order?  How can we delight our customers when we can’t even meet their expectations?

The management technique for bringing together such extremes and arriving at supernatural problem solving is called Force Field Analysis.  This management technique was developed by Kurt Lewin, a pioneer in the field of social sciences, for diagnosing situations. The technique used a method of weighing pros and cons of a suggested plan of action. The pros and cons are called the Driving and Restraining forces.

This analysis is characterized by:

• clarifying and strengthening the “driving forces” for solution

• identifying obstacles or “restraining forces” to a solution

encouraging agreement on relative priority of factors on each side of the balance sheet

Driving forces are those forces affecting a situation that are pushing in a particular direction; they tend to initiate a change and keep it going. Examples of driving forces for implementing a plan include an identified business need, support from the leadership team or the availability of skilled resources.  Restraining forces are forces acting in opposition to and restraining the driving forces. Examples of restraining forces against implementing a plan include time pressures, lack of enthusiasm and competing demands.  Lewin says that equilibrium is reached when the sum of the driving forces equals the sum of the restraining forces. 

Benjamin Hoff in The Tao of Pooh describes how Winnie the Pooh takes similar but unconventional look at finding a solution by looking for the thing he didn’t want to find.  Here Pooh and Rabbit are trying to get home and keep ending up at a small sand-pit.  Pooh finally suggests:

“Well … we keep looking for Home and not finding it, so I thought that if we looked for this Pit, we’d be sure not to find it, which would be a Good Thing, because then we might find something that we weren’t looking for, which might be just what we were looking for, really.”

 Perhaps said in a non-Pooh way, driving forces by themselves don’t always yield a desired outcome.  Certainly, restraining forces which move you away from the outcome isn’t the place to be either.  It’s the equilibrium of the competing actions – the place where the tears often fall — where the problems get solved, where the impossible becomes possible and you can find your way home. 

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA

No Stupid Ideas

I had a wonderful opportunity to be shadowed by Anthony who was in a leadership development program from another agency.  He and I talked a lot about innovation and the whole notion of how to get good ideas.  At the end of the conversation he said he got the feeling that I didn’t think any idea was stupid.   After I thought about it I agreed.  I told him that I think there really are no stupid ideas, just stupid people. 

Before I continue too far, I have to say that I hate using the word stupid – it’s judgmental and arrogant.   I try to limit myself to only one “stupid” per day.  And I find as I get older and learn more, I know less.  So, the whole notion of “stupid” is pretty … well… stupid sometimes.  Nevertheless, this word seemed appropriate in the context of the world of innovation and creative thinking.

Sometimes ideas that sound stupid turn out to be examples of the kind of out of the box thinking that produces amazing results.  I read a pretty interesting article on several ideas that seemed stupid, but ended up making millions of dollars.  Examples of this are: doggie goggles, antenna balls, and personalized letters to Santa.   

Sometimes ideas that initially seem to be stupid failures end up being learning opportunities that ultimately yield to amazing results.  Thomas Edison had many failed ideas before he was able to learn through trial and error what was needed to invent the light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera.  As George Santayana is often quoted, “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Stupid people are not those who lack education or intellect.  Very intelligent people can be stupid.  Similarly, people with low intellect or education can come up with ideas that produce great results.  But most stupid people have some characteristics in common as it relates to ideas.

They don’t seek diversity.  Often stupid people will ask other stupid people if their idea is a good idea.  In other words, they seek advice from people who are just like themselves or in their own inner circle.  They also only look for opinions that confirm what they want to hear. 

They don’t care about results.  Whether it’s from being delusional, experiencing cognitive dissonance, or being overly righteous or arrogant, stupid people just want to defend their original ideas without listening to advise that could produce desired results. 

They don’t learn from mistakes.  Personal righteousness and arrogance can prevent stupid people from learning and allow them to stumble into this ditch.  In addition, very successful people can be stupid because they have so much experience in creating good results from their former good ideas.  They don’t get into the disciplined habit of learning from mistakes because they simply have not made a lot of mistakes.  They are haunted by the enemy of past successes. 

If an idea fails, that doesn’t make it a bad idea.  Likewise, if an idea is good idea, it can get botched through thoughtless implementation.  So, after giving this more thought Anthony, I still think there is no such thing as a stupid idea.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA

Women in History: A Girl’s World

I had a very senior meeting with folks from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on some pretty important procurement matters.  We had the meeting on the phone by teleconference.  I was in a great mood because I was wearing this brand new pink leather jacket that I just brought 40% off with an additional 30% off coupon.  After a bunch of ooh’s and aah’s, I realized that all the girls were in DC and all the boys were in Huntsville.  It also occurred to me that the girls just spent the first five minutes of the conference call talking about fashion versatility and fiscal prudence.  So, I apologized to the boys of Alabama and started the meeting. Cute and Powerful Girl 

But, maybe Women’s History Month is a good time to stop apologizing for being a woman.

In an interview by InfoWorld, Carly Fiorina, who served as CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005, and was the first woman to run a Fortune 20 company, was asked to give advice to other women who are in male-dominated fields.  She said, “…Don’t carry other people’s prejudices as your burden. Don’t sell your soul in the process.” So, women need not be ashamed for acting like and being like … a girl.  Often, we girls hear about major decisions being made on the golf course, or in cigar-smoke filled rooms.  And maybe I sold my soul a bit on this, but I did it like a girl wearing pink golf shoes and gloves, hitting pink balls and smoking Sugar Daddy flavored cigars. 

In an article Leadership Qualities That Distinguishes Women for the Financial Executive Magazine Herbert Greenberg and Patrick Sweeney talk about women bringing “distinct personality and motivational strengths to leadership roles – and doing so in a style that is more conducive to today’s diverse workplace.”  The article discusses women’s willingness to take risks, be inclusive and team-oriented, their ability to rebound and learn from setbacks, and their distinct persuasive style.  I recall my grandmother’s distinct leadership style in persuading us to do what she asked.  As a last resort she would say, “Don’t let me have to take my shoe off!”  That worked every time.  I was asked once, how I was able to be so persuasive in advancing some key strategic initiatives.  My honest answer was that … I took my shoe off. 

There’s a great need in the world of IT for the leadership style of women.  Most CIO’s today know the importance that IT has in initiating change in organizations, bringing people together, and increasing the effectiveness of the modern workforce.  There’s also an increasing need to make IT more understandable and have clear communication in non-IT jargon.  The leadership traits that are stereotypically associated with women would benefit the IT field.

In a TEDWomen talk, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, gives some pithy advice to women in her talk Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.  But, she ends the talk with a question.  She asks, wouldn’t it be a better world if half the countries and half the companies were run by those who represent nearly half the population, women?

I end this blog to help us girls feel empowered, establish our own place in history, and be proud of our strength with the words of the profound urban poet James Brown.  He posits that it’s a man’s world, however:

This is a man’s world, this is a man’s world
But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl

Linda Cureton, CIO NASA

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