Inspire or Expire

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center got an inspiring first visit from our new Administrator Charlie Bolden.  I am always fascinated by how executives manage their transition into leadership.  Clearly, with a resume like Charlie Bolden has, he’s no stranger to transition.  We got clues about the man, his mission, and perhaps about his modus operandi.

One thing that stuck in my mind and in my heart was a charge that NASA should inspire the world.  He may have said nation, but I heard – the world.  I’m sure of it, actually.  As leaders, we are constantly honing our leadership competencies so that we can inspire a workforce.  The key issue, however, is that leaders need to do that plus create organizations that inspire.

The derivation of the word inspire comes from the Latin verb spirare meaning to breathe.  Inspiration literally means to breathe into.  How does an organization breathe into the nation or the world? Four other words come to mind that are relevant to this discussion.  Transpire, respire, perspire, or expire.

Inspiring organizations would have to transpire or emerge.  They have to come outside of themselves and find out what’s going on.  Look at the environment and develop an understanding of their external surroundings.

Inspiring organizations would need to respire or breathe.  Breath sustains life.  It is the process of bringing into an organization, the things that are needed to sustain it.  It is also the process of shedding the things that are noxious. 

Finally, inspiring organizations would need to perspire or sweat.   Some of that sweat will come from hard work and some of it will come from reacting and managing risk.  Regardless, you don’t get very far without doing the things that produce sweat.

And if organizations are not able to do these things, there is a strong possibility that organizations may expire.  Many doubt that a government institution can meet organizational demise.  But, organizational demise shows up in many forms: failure to meet mission, failure to satisfy stakeholders, or inability to meet their constituents’ needs are some possible outcomes.

Just like the Apostle Paul, who appreciated the proverbial thorn in his side, I appreciate the comments that I might get that say “what does inspiration have to do with getting a man to the moon?” or “what does inspiration have to do with being a CIO?”

Well, there’s this thing called the Constitution that talks about things like promoting general welfare, and pursuit of happiness.  Who knows, maybe inspiration from an organization like NASA can contribute to that. 

For a CIO, who supports the inspiring organization, it may look like providing and promoting enabling technologies that help with collaboration.  It may look like reducing costs so that we can better utilize the scarce resources that we have.  Finally, it may look like understanding the work that needs to be done and giving advice about how can be technology can be applied to the effort.

In a smaller group of Goddard’s Executive Council, Charlie Bolden gave me some good-spirited poking about why I was not smiling.  I must have known in advance what he might say and what it may mean.  I shouldn’t have been worried though.  I realize now that all I have to do is get out, take deep breaths, and get ready for hard work.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Problem Solving and Personal Leadership

I had a rare opportunity to sit in on NASA’s Senior Management Council Meeting last week.  It was worth coming in from the flu and missing Michael Jackson’s funeral to take what was for me a glimpse into how an organization like NASA approaches problem-solving.  Acting Administrator, Chris Scolese moved methodically from issue to issue …What problem are we trying to solve? Do we have a plan? Did we solve the problem?

As individuals and as leaders, do we apply the same rigor and approach to problem solving?  Back in the good ole days, as a technician and systems programmer, problem determination was an important skill.  I recall one situation, in pulling an all-nighter, I had to wait for my colleague and good pal GJB to “do his thing” before I could do mine.  However, his stuff didn’t work.  So what did he do? He just kept trying over, and over, and over, again.  It was four o’clock in the morning. S o sleep deprived with patience exhausted, I yelled, “For crying out loud, Dude … just do something different! ANYTHING!”

Not surprisingly, some of the same characteristics of a good problem-solver can be found in a good leader.   Courage, creativity, focus, tenacity. 

Chuck Musciano, in his blog, Shaking the Mouse, relates a story about one woman’s approach to problem determination.  When a sales rep of a major IT company began to experience … “the demon of demos” … she began to shake the mouse to get things to start working.

Now, it was true that the [optical] mouse driver did hang every so often, but it was due to a small input buffer being overrun with too many mouse events.  If you waited a few seconds, the buffer would drain and the mouse would recover no shaking necessary.  This woman, however, believed that mouse was clogged and that shaking was required to fix it.  It clearly worked: every time she shook the mouse, it started working again.

My pal David is a digital image technician.  Printers and copiers … ugh … are the bane of my existence.  Here’s my problem solving technique — when I get a paper jam, I just open doors and slam them shut until it clears; if my print doesn’t come out right, I just go through all the permutations and combinations of inserting the paper; by now, I’m sweating and crying and then email document to someone else to print.  But, David is good at problem solving.  First, you show it who is boss.  Then, don’t be afraid of a little electrical shock and don’t be afraid to take it apart and try stuff, you can shake that off  that shock it just wakes you up.  Then you wrestle with the little devil until it gives up and works.    

Ok, David.  I think those reflect sound personal leadership principles.  Here’s a quote that gets pretty close to his technique:

Why don’t we just take the safety labels off of everything and let the problem solve itself?

This suggests that courage is better than process.  But perhaps leaders of organizations should make risk-based decisions about taking those safety labels off, nurture an environment for creativity, and ensure that they have enough energy and focus to wrestle the problems until they just give in and allow themselves to be resolved.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center



Girl Power for CIOs

I had the good fortune of being asked to speak on a panel for Women in Technology.  The panel was called Government Leaders at the Helm.  Like with any other discussion focused for women in leadership, we are asked typically to answer these questions:

·         How do you break through the glass ceiling?

·         How do you get work-life balance?

·         What’s it like being a woman in a male dominated field?

This was the third year that I did this panel.  As each year passes, there has been an increase in the number of men who attend.  I’m not surprised.  Perhaps posed in a slightly different manner, these are questions that any leader should ask himself or herself as they manage their lives and their careers.

Glass ceiling. It’s difficult talking about this.  Acknowledgement may not cast your organization in the most positive light; yet ignoring it may be reacting like putting your proverbial head in the sand.  Rebecca Shambaugh, in her book “It’s Not a Glass Ceiling It’s a Sticky Floor”, acknowledges the existence of the glass ceiling, but challenges her readers to focus on those things that make your feet stick to the floor.  Some of the things we learned as girls in Kindergarten may be some of the traits that hold us back in our leadership careers.  She goes on to say:

The strengths and traits that got you to where you are, such as getting results, being detail oriented, being process focused, or a team player, are more of a recipe for being a good middle manager than an executive-suite executive.  In contrast, executive-level leaders need to think strategically, have a vision for their organization and people, lead complex change, and build strategic and collaborative relationships inside and outside the organization.

Focusing instead on these executive skills, is the key to getting “unstuck” on the floor.  Focusing on the wrong thing causes you to overlook your strengths.

Focus … there must be a golf story coming.  I was playing golf in Hilton Head, SC. I finally got to the point where I could drive the ball and not go into the water by NOT focusing on the water.  But, at Hilton Head, there were alligators at every hole – plus, I’m hitting from the forward tees which are closer to the alligator.  I did not lose my focus on the alligators and every single drive with an alligator went straight for the alligator.  Focus.  It works.

Work-life balance.  This question always drives me nuts.  It’s not like I am 33 1/3% wife, 33 1/3% friend, and 33 1/3% CIO! How can you not be 100% wife? Or 100% friend?  Focus and priorities make this a non-linear problem.  Einstein says it best:

Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master.  For this reason, mastery demands all of a person.

There are times when folks will ask my husband, how does it feel to have your wife blog? He says, almost always, that it’s ok except when I blog on “his time”.  So then I thought what part of MY time is not HIS time? Then, I came up with it: while he’s sleep, working outside, shopping, or fixing something.  So, if I focus and write faster … and chose the appropriate time, then everybody’s happy.

What’s it like?  I like to answer this question like this … how does it feel? Well, today, I’m at a conference with a bunch Java developers.  A whole bunch of men.  A WHOLE BUNCH!  Imagine, you are late (ok, ok, no wisecracks), you are wearing a flashy silver and white metallic jacket in a sea of blue jeans, and you haven’t seen a woman yet. Then everyone turns and looks at you when you get a shout-out from the stage.  It feels like that.

Many of the executive traits that Shambaugh described are associated with Right-brained thinking.  And some studies have shown that right-brained thinking is often associated with women.  Some of those attributes are: big-picture thinking, seeing both present and future, appreciating, presents possibilities, and taking risks. 

Dan Pink, in his blog, Too Many Left-Brained Thinkers Spoil the Pot, suggests that left-brained thinking prevented some companies from seeing financial disaster coming.  He goes on to blog:

I have a theory that people who find themselves running major-league companies are real organization-management types who focus on what they are doing this quarter or this annual budget. They are somewhat impatient, and focused on the present. Seeing these things requires more people with a historical perspective who are more thoughtful and more right-brained — but we end up with an army of left-brained immediate doers.

So, I guess the conclusion is whether you are a male or female executive; or a CIO or regular person, you should focus on your strengths, be prepared to stand out in a crowd, and watch out for alligators.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

How Extraordinary Golf Leads to Extraordinary Leadership

I had to give a talk recently at the Society for Information Management Regional Leadership Forum.  Someone asked me what I did in my spare time.  After wondering what the heck was spare time, I babbled some stuff — reading, Sudoku, golf.  Then the guy interrupted me and asked incredulously – you like to play golf? Well, the answer was absolutely NOT.  However, considering some have said that g.o.l.f. stands for gentlemen only ladies forbidden, a lady CIO in this town and in this industry needs to get some pink balls and a pink golf glove and stand on the red tees on behalf of information technology. Garry Gaukler, Linda Cureton, Gary Cox, Mark Hagerty 2007 NASA HQ Golf Event

So I was intrigued by the topic Making Today’s Dream Tomorrow’s Reality: What Golf Can Teach us About High Performance, Learning, and Enjoyment at the Goddard Space Flight Center Exploring Leadership Colloquium.   The talk was given by Fred Shoemaker, golf professional, coach and author of the book Extraordinary Golf. 

He started the lesson with a small group the day before.  He challenged us on our notion of what our goals were in the golf coaching session.  The responses were not surprising: stop my slice; correct my form; hit more solid shots; etc. However, his coaching focused on two things: being “present” on the course and knowing your target. 

Staying in the Present

In looking at the things that golfers are working on to improve their golf game, Shoemaker notes that on average, this takes up about 5% of the time that players spend in a round.  The other 95% of the time is spent walking or riding around to your next shot.  He discovered that the people who are most likely to improve are the people who have mastered that 95% time between the shots.  This is what he calls being present on the course.  Not living in the past of your historic performance … nor the future of wondering if you will look good … but the present of being committed and enjoying the game.

What is your target?

The second learning moment was understanding what our target is.  As we address the ball, is the target the ball? The plane on the backswing? Or that hole under the flag in the distance? He video tapes golfers with their normal swing. Then he removes the ball and has us release the club towards the target.  This was transformative.  Suddenly, everyone developed swings like the golf pros.  In just a few seconds, it was like the Golf Channel.  What a difference the right target made!

Fear, trust, and courage

In order to learn and grow in anything, it requires the willingness to explore and take risks and experience some amount of discomfort and confusion.  We label this discomfort fear and then start to narrow ourselves through the limitations that fear imposes. 

But the good thing about fear is that without it, we wouldn’t need courage.  Courage helps manage the fear, but trust keeps fear from recurring.  Developing trust in yourself, and in this specific example in your golf swing, gives us the ability to execute with confidence.

Are you committed?

We all have our purpose in playing golf … just as we have our purpose in life.  We confuse performance or the goals with purpose.  We are there to enjoy the game, not to execute the perfect drive.  Are we committed to looking good with the perfect drive? Or are we committed to enjoying an amazing sport?

We do this in the workplace as individuals, managers, and leaders.  Are we committed to the purpose of the project?  Have we lost sight of the organization’s target because we are overly focusing on performance? Now certainly performance is critical, but we don’t want a successful operation and a dead patient!

So in the putting exercise that Shoemaker had us do I learned something about golf and about myself.  As I addressed the ball, dressed smartly with a pink shirt, pink glove and a pink visor, I wasn’t thinking about the pink shoes that I forgot and left in the trunk, but I was thinking about the fact that for the first time, I focused on the ball as my target and was actually enjoying the sweet sound of a well-struck ball and the feeling of a good swing.

Linda Cureton, CIO NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

The Art of Change Followership

Organizational success is clearly linked to good leadership.  But, what’s often forgotten is the need for good followership.  Simply having followers is not sufficient. One of the things that good leaders and bad leaders have in common is that they both have followers. 


Barbara Kellerman in her book, Bad Leadership, identifies reasons why people follow leaders regardless of their goodness or badness.  These reasons range from having their needs met as individuals, as members of groups, or by satisfaction of their personal interests.  But good followership distinguishes itself by certain traits of the followers and of the leaders.  Furthermore, good leaders nurture those traits and qualities in themselves and in their followers.


In Followership: Leading Is A Skill; So Is Following, by Alden Solovy, several traits and behavior themes of good followers are identified: self-management, communication, teamwork, personal development, commitment, credibility, honesty, and courage.  These behaviors and traits are linked to organizational success.  Interestingly, John C. Maxwell, in The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, leadership skills associated organizational success are consistent with critical followership skills: self-discipline, communication, servanthood, teachability, commitment, character, generosity, and courage.


Leading in the today’s difficult climate of stress and change demands that leaders pay more attention to this.  One of the key leadership attributes that Woodard and Tager discuss in Leadership in Times of Stress and Change is the need for empathy: the ability to put yourself in the shoes of your followers and to really know and feel what they are going through. 


These soft or people-centered skills may appear to be an inadequate substitute for outcome oriented leadership and followership behaviors – especially in an engineering culture as NASA.  But it can make a real difference to outcomes and productivity during today’s turbulent times.  After all, it was honesty, sincere communication and commitment of a brave little boy that helped the unclothed emperor see the leader that he needed to become.


Linda Cureton, CIO/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Partnerships in Space

Last week Goddard Space Flight Center was treated to a visit from Joe Klimavicz, the CIO of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and 25 people from his office.  I must admit, that I’ve always had a soft spot for NOAA.  That’s where I had my first job as a civil servant – as GS-2 Student Assistant Cartographer.  That’s also where, after ruining another nautical chart, wiser veterans pried a pen out of my ink-stained left hand and banished me permanently into the purgatory called Information Technology. NOAA CIO Joe Klimavicz


Bobby German, Acting CIO of NASA, and I gave a brief overview of the IT challenges at NASA. Joe with concurrence from his crew remarked that he could have given the same overview – except instead of saying NASA or Goddard, he would say NOAA.  Remarkable? Not really.  As I type this, I am on my way to the Department of Energy (DOE) CIO Conference.  Sadly, because of weather delays, I missed the opening remarks from CIO, Tom Pyke.  But after doing a gig myself at DOE, I know that he could have given the same overview that Bobby and I gave – except instead of saying NASA or Goddard or NOAA, he’d said DOE. 


So, I wonder, in the words of Rodney King, “why can’t we all just get along?”  In other words, ineffective IT governance is the Garden of Eden for almost all of the IT problems that we have – How we make decisions? Who makes decisions? How we inform those decisions? Seems like an easy thing to figure out, right? But I suppose if it were easy, we would have already done it.  It also seems point to another Garden of Eden conundrum and boil down to individual accountability and that free will thing again.  Sure we need policy to tell us what is right and wrong, but policy won’t protect us from individuals who, whether from ignorance or defiance, make the wrong choices from a security perspective.  But, we do we continue to struggle as a collective don’t we????


As I muddle through this blog, I’m sitting next to Bob Carter, VP of Federal Sales from a company that sells security technology to government.   Like me, he was on his way to the DOE CIO Conference.  I told him what I was blogging about and asked his opinion after cautioning him to please not try to sell me anything. While he assured me that technology was a necessary component of the solution he cautions that throwing a bunch of technology at it wasn’t the answer either. I chuckled to myself ironically wondering if his assertion will still provide them a viable sales pipeline – but mercifully he was candid, a cool dude and a straight shooter.


Who knows, but we need to be able to pull together and figure it all out.  And if as Bob suggests, technology is the first line of defense, maybe we need to also look at people – partnerships and individual accountability … and processes – governance and risk-based strategies. 


That’s why I was excited about meeting with NOAA and why I was excited about the DOE CIO Conference.  Maybe we can work together where all of us are smarter than each of us.  Perhaps collectively, we can find a way for IT to help our respective missions better serve this country … even this planet.

108: Preparing for Glory in NASA’s Information Technology Program

People always ask me why I blog.  And I have my standard answers: (1) to learn about one of the many amazing Web 2.0 technologies; (2) to utilize diverse communication media; (3) to focus my leadership thoughts and hone ideas; and (4) to be transparent.


Some have suggested I have ridiculous and selfish reasons like entertaining the public or promoting myself.  So, be warned you may want to skip to the next item in your RSS Feed because this blog is for me – for my selfish purposes.  This is just a conversation.  Perhaps no purpose and perhaps no value to you … but of value to me and maybe to the 108 men and women who work in my organization. 


Something didn’t go my way recently … boo-hoo.  No more whining.  Whining (as well as sleeping) is for wimps! As I stood on a sidewalk outside of the Las Vegas McCarran Airport, I got another discouraging email from my Deputy, Mark.  Since I was already preparing for glory by putting my life savings on #11 black, I told him to schedule an All Hands Meeting.  I’ll tell the staff the bad news myself – if I come back. 


As young managers, we spend a lot of time understanding new and unique ways of motivating our workforce.  As seasoned leaders, we find ourselves in a position to lead and motivate even more people to do greater things and yet must somehow … someway … find the inner strength, courage and stamina to motivate ourselves even in the face of a setback or a defeat or even death.


So I stayed up until 1:30 am preparing a power point presentation for my All Hands Meeting.  All the right motivational words; the right context; restate the IT vision for the future (for the 5,000th time).  I’ll spell check later. Time to say my prayers and try to get a little sleep.  By the time I woke up in the morning, my thoughts drifted to the movie 300. So I decided to throw away the power point, but now, I had no clue what I was going to say to keep my folks motivated and engaged. Poster from Movie 300 - Prepare for Glory


The movie is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae circa 480 B.C.  In the movie, 300 Spartans, united with courage and fortified with geographic advantage, take a stand and are barely defeated by a Persian Army of over 100,000.  This battle buys enough time to create political support for the creation of a Spartan-Greek alliance that eventually defeats the King of Persia.


Just 300 Spartans.  I thought of the 108 employees in my Directorate.  I hate to even call them employees – I work for them instead. I think a better term is to refer to them as the 108 Spartans in my Directorate.  300 Spartans facing death? 108 NASA men and women facing change? Different yet non-trivial events.


Change and death.  Most change management professionals will tell you that people resist change because of fear.  And fear of death is similar to fear associated with change. As we go through change, as individuals or as organizations, we must be prepared for flesh wounds or setbacks.  Leaders must prepare themselves and their organizations for change. 


There was a great scene in the movie where a Spartan soldier got his eye gouged out.  His leader asks if he will be ok with that little scratch.  The soldier says, no problem, I have a spare.   As leaders prepare themselves and their organizations for glory, we all must be prepared for the inevitable little scratches. 


Yeah, this blog’s for me … and the 108 brave Spartan men and women who work in Goddard Space Flight Center’s IT and Communications Directorate.  Today, we prepare for glory.


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Being Stung By Leading Organizational Change

This blog is inspired by a book of poems and drawings called Falling Up by Shel Silverstein.  Here it is:


Three Stings

George got stung by a bee and said,

“I wouldn’t have got stung if I’d stayed in the bed.”

Fred got stung and we heard him roar,

“What am I being punished for?”

Lew got stung and we heard him say,

“I learned somethin’ about bees today.”


I remember as a child not really wanting to go outside and play because of all of the dangers there compared to the comfort of the fortress of solitude of my bedroom.  One of the things I was always afraid of was being stung by a bee.  And then it happened.  I finally got stung.  At first, I was like George in the poem … “I never should have gone outside!” But, then something else happened – once I got stung, it just wasn’t that scary anymore.  Oh, it hurt, but it didn’t kill me.  Humm, sounds like IT Transformation to me, or more generally, leading organizational change.


Destiny brought this poem to me on the heels of getting stung pretty badly while leading IT change at Goddard Space Flight Center. Something didn’t go my way. I reacted like Fred this time – what am I being punished for when I am doing what is being asked of me? What did I do wrong? So, I simply did what any seasoned and mature executive would do – (1) cried; (2) drank cosmopolitans in large quantities; and (3) went to Las Vegas for the weekend.


I recall a wonderful panel of CIOs that I had the pleasure of listening to.  Two of the CIOs had both left the government, but had been CIOs of the same Department.  They were talking about the bane of every CIO’s existence – consolidating email infrastructure.  The first CIO said, that as he looked back to see what his successors did, he wished that he [got out of the bed] started that initiative knowing that it needed to be done.  The second CIO said, yes, he started it, but he got treated so badly by the Department for doing what was asked of him [he was being punished] and was weary.  I admired their candor and admired that they shared their leadership lessons.  And I learned about bees that day.


So, I’ve dried my tears, sobered up, and didn’t hit the jackpot, but I learned another lesson about bees and I was reminded of something I learned about change leadership.  It stings. 




Linda Cureton, CIO/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The Learning Organization: CIO as Paleontologist

Not too long ago, I experienced a personally upsetting but organizationally valuable workshop on Race, Power, and Privilege.  Sometimes, I just can’t help thinking that many of today’s leaders think of diversity in the workplace as just about making someone like me, an African-American female, feel good.  And we’ve all checked the box and understood what human resource specialists have been saying.  That is, an organization’s competitiveness and success depends on its ability to embrace diversity.  But, this is just one of the many attributes of Learning Organizations.


Most traditional organizations are designed for efficient performance.  And this is fine during times of stability and certainty.  However, during turbulent and uncertain times, where adaptability and fluidity are needed, the Learning Organization is more effective.  As leaders and as citizens, we have certainly seen the evidence of turbulence and uncertainty.  Furthermore, many have been asked about how to promote creativity and innovation in government – said another way, how do we create learning organizations in the federal government?


I’ll offer two thoughts for how leaders can do this in today’s environment and how CIOs can help.  (1) Unleashing right-brained thinking in the workplace; and (2) using technology as a strategic asset that can promote collaboration.


Right Brain versus Left Brain.


The left part of our brain is usually associated with: facts, analytical thought, exact numerical calculation, verbal functions, vocabulary and grammar, and logic.  The right part of our brain is usually associated with: big picture thinking, intuition, empathy, numerical approximation, verbal emphasis or intent.  Gordon MacKenzie, in his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, writes about how to promote and nurture creativity and innovation in the workplace.  In it, he says:


If we are to make ourselves more fully available to the unfathomable potential of our whole mind, we must unmuzzle the genius of the right [brain].


Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, wrote in his blog some thoughts about what seemed to be an inability to predict the recent financial crisis.  In his blog piece Too Many Left Brains Spoil the Pot, he writes:


 I have a theory that people who find themselves running major-league companies are real organization-management types who focus on what they are doing this quarter or this annual budget. They are somewhat impatient, and focused on the present. Seeing these things requires more people with a historical perspective who are more thoughtful and more right-brained — but we end up with an army of left-brained immediate doers.


IT as a Strategic Asset versus IT as a Commodity


It’s probably better said that we need to have information as a strategic asset and for IT to help enable people as strategic assets by promoting information sharing and collaboration.  In traditional organizations, information is used a power.  As the amount of complex information in an organization grows, formal systems are established that help detect deviations from standards and goals.  In learning organizations, information helps promote an environment where employees have complete information so that they can act quickly.  Information is used to promote open channels of communications and create opportunities for discussion. 


Clearly the actions of an empowered workforce in touch with each other, their customers, their suppliers, and even their competitors help identify needs and solutions needed for success.  Collaborating with our competitors can help us learn and adapt and thrive.


Here’s where Web 2.0 technologies thrive.  The opportunities are immense.  We can’t lose sight of the need to measure and comply, but we have to evolve past that and apply these technologies strategically.


I will conclude with an ironic situation that I was in.  I met a person that was an advisor to one of my colleagues.   He had fabulous ideas about implementation of Web 2.0,  but here’s the irony – he was a Paleontologist.  I thought of the dinosaurs, and how we can learn from them and their inability to learn and adapt and subsequent extinction.  Such is the future of organizations that fail to do likewise. 


Maybe government organizations don’t die, but worse things can happen, such as:


  • They fail to engender trust in stakeholders and constituents
  • They have a demoralized and devalued workforce and struggle to attract and retain talent
  • Worst of all, they become irrelevant


As government leaders, we can’t let this happen.  We have to promote learning not only in our organizations, but in ourselves as individuals. 


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

The Transparent CIO

For some reason, I’ve had several conversations with folks about Transparency in government leadership.  It seems to me that this is one of those terms that everyone tosses around with little common understanding about what that truly means.  True transparency, I believe, comes with some amount of risk.  So, I think I will push the envelop a bit and make myself a little more transparent – I certainly talked the talk lately, so let me walk the walk.


Today, I will blog about how I feel.  For the introvert in me, this is a near death experience – and this is not an exaggeration.  And my purpose is to (1) see what’s up with this Transparency Thing; (2) invite conversations about Leadership; and (3) having faith that Transparency is a good Thing, improve my leadership abilities.


One of my favorite books is A Leadership Moment, by Michael Useem.  It’s an inspiring and tragic account about several well-known leaders and how they prepared and performed during their leadership moment. One story included the leadership and preparation of NASA Flight Director Eugene Kranz and the ultimate rescue of the Apollo 13 crew. 


So, this is what I’m thinking – am I going to be ready for my leadership moment? And this is what I’m feeling – that I have talents that could help me that I’m “saving” for something perhaps less risky? … something perhaps more safe?


Some may be familiar with a parable about The Unprofitable Servant.  In summary, the story tells of a certain master who gives each of his servants 5, 2, and 1 talents respectively.  After returning, he found that he got a pretty good ROI from two of the three who doubled their original investment.  However, the servant with only 1 talent saved his and hid it to keep it safe from harm or loss.  The Unprofitable Servant – sure glad that’s not me … or it is?


I had a leadership moment about 13 years ago.  I was trying really, really hard to hide my talents inside a data center.  I had a boss that would call on me as his little organizational problem solver.  I could always tell, when he was about to ask me.  He gave me this “look”.  I’ll never forget one “look” he gave me.  I just started cleaning my office and waiting for my boss to call.  That call was to work on establishing a Web 1.0 service.  I went kicking and screaming and shed many tears over that gig.  The tears were shed from using talents I wanted to hide.  Yet, I used them anyway in what ended up being a defining leadership moment in my career. 


I find it no coincidence that as I stand at this Web 2.0 point of inflection that I am kicking and screaming and shedding tears about the push to use particular talents that I prefer to hide and not even admit I have.  Like the heroes that Useem writes about, I will need to invest all my talents in order to be prepared for that leadership moment and I won’t know when that moment will come. And all of this makes me feel afraid.


As there are boundaries and limitations to all this transparency stuff, I will not disclose the particular talents, though some of you out there already know what they are.  But as a good steward of this blog, I need to say without question, that a CIO gig is a leadership gig.  Some how, some way, any leader, including a CIO leader, will have to be prepared for her leadership moment.  The self-aware leader will have to be prepared to utilize all of her talents when those moments come.


Linda Cureton, CIO NASA Goddard Space Flight Center