Will They Cheer For You?

Will They Cheer For You?

Today, I attended the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Awards Ceremony. It honors the Goddard Space Flight Center workforce for their dedication to many vital areas, including leadership, management, science, engineering, mission support, and customer service.

The Management Award recognizes managers, supervisors, and organizational team leaders who, while providing day-to-day direction to work units, demonstrate through their management behavior, style, and approach, exceptional levels of achievement that creates a positive and productive work environment for their employees. Garcia Blount was recognized today for exemplary management and leadership qualities that make his Branch, Code 547, and Goddard, a technology leader in manufacturing support.

When his name was called, six people, obviously from his team, let out a tremendous and loud cheer that pierced my heart and touched my soul today. There were six sitting next to each other. They had to have come together, early in fact, to get adjacent seats in the crowded auditorium. They all had cameras, screaming and cheering as they called his name. Their excitement touched me. The frantic clicks of their cameras matched the tempo of what must have been their pounding of their hearts. And I heard it. I didn’t know Garcia, but I thought he must be one heck of a leader.

Now as a CIO Blogger, I am sensitive to being controversial and inciting unbridled emotions in readers; after all, this whole Web 2.0 thing is still pretty new. I will push the envelop here – in Washington, DC – and talk about (gulp) football. I’m fascinated by the New England Patriots. Most of the time, you might hear sound bites like – Terrell Owens and the Dallas Cowboys; Payton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts; Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers … er .. I mean the New York Jets; Gladys Knight and the Pips.

You don’t hear the Tom Brady and the Pats sound bites that often. So, I’ve pondered various aspects of what might be Bill Belichick’s leadership acumen that consistently produces team leaders, quarterback leaders, and winning teams. Clearly skills a CIO would be interested in. After all, IT Transformations and Super Bowls – seems like the same thing to me.

Consider this quote from Randy Moss when talking about Brady’s season-ending knee injury (Source ESPN.COM):

“We saw Tom today,” Moss said in a national conference call.

“I am not sure how much longer we are going to see him, but he is here today and has been uplifting and keeping a positive attitude. I think that goes a long way with not only him but the team as well.”

They are going to miss him. But, his leadership helps them feel they can win without him. Well actually, they will always have him with them even if he is on crutches. And even if he is on crutches, they will still cheer for him. And he will cheer for them.

When Garcia walked down the aisle today, proudly carrying his plaque, he smiled at his team. Click-click-click. He was proud of them. Though he walked across the stage, he knew that they were the ones who made it all happen for him. I saw the look on his face. HE was cheering for THEM.

Linda Cureton

The Art of Change Leadership

When we become CIOs, we are typically asked to fix some pervasive problem: IT Security, OMB Compliance, failing projects, etc.  Lately, I’ve been quoting Teen Talk Barbie, who if she were a CIO today, would say “Being a CIO is hard!” versus “Math is hard!”  As CIOs, we have to take the time to understand the environment that we work in.  We need to understand the needs of our customers, constituents, and stakeholders in order to help them along the needed technology, cultural, and process changes.  Without the understanding and without the requisite change leadership skills, a CIO will beat her head against a brick wall for nine months, turn around and pound the other side for nine months, then quit.


Change Leadership is about transforming an organization, through people, processes, and technology, towards some needed improvement or in a new and challenging direction.  The art of successfully doing this will energize an entire organization to WANT to go in the desired direction. 


“Art begins with resistance – at the point where resistance is overcome.  No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.” – Andre Gide


The art of Change Leadership is not a paint-by-numbers approach used by grade-schoolers to make a still life … it is the ways and means that the change artist coaxes a masterpiece out of the canvas of her organization.  It’s not the paint-by-numbers approach that uses only directive communication plans, it’s a flexible strategy that seeks to eliminate barriers to change, implement the change, and integrate the change in the hearts, minds, and souls of those effected.  It builds a shared vision with the community that the CIO serves. 


When we become CIOs, we have to realize we are not working in a dictatorship and that we need change leadership competencies in order move the change agenda forward. The CIO’s failure to effectively execute the art of Change Leadership will result in change that is merely temporary or in 18-month CIO lifecycles. 


Linda Y. Cureton, CIO NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center


Leaving a Legacy Versus Being a Legacy

Leaving a Legacy Versus Being a Legacy


This week, I was briefing the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Associate Director in preparation for NASA’s Strategic Information Technology (IT) Investment Board Meeting.  We were looking at business cases for some of our IT Investments. When we saw a few referred to as legacy systems, the definition was not clear in this particular context.  I really wanted to tell her it meant “too old to change” – but I didn’t have the heart to say that.  Ironically, this week I also attended a session sponsored by the American Council for Technology called “Building a Public Service Legacy”.  This is a discussion series where senior government and industry IT leaders share their experiences with government professionals who are early in their career.  I was heartened to hear this month’s speaker, Dr. Renny DiPentima, former CIO and Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.


I knew of him over the years and was very familiar with his achievements.  What I didn’t know and learned this week, was a bit more about his legacy.   His leadership and insight helped shape the current role of the Federal CIO.  He shared the story of his first day as a civil servant, starting off as a GS-5 Clerk. I imagined him walking into a New York City office without air conditioning on a blistering summer day – hot, wide-eyed, optimistic, and determined to leave a legacy.


I was reminded of some thoughts offered by John C. Maxwell in his “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”.  The Law of Legacy, law number 21, was, as he noted, one of the most important laws of leadership.  However, it is one of the laws that fewest leaders seem to learn.  He goes on to say,


“Achievement comes to someone when he is able to do great things for himself. Success comes when he empowers followers to do great things with him.  But a legacy is created only when a person puts his organization into the position to do great things without him.”


Being a CIO these days is no doubt a tough gig.  But, the lasting value of a CIO will not be in what she achieves, but in what she leaves behind.

The Great CIO Organization: Building the Right Team

The Great CIO Organization: Building the Right Team


I passed Tonjua in the hall one day.  She is one of my up-and-coming young leaders and is leading a team planning the administrative activities required to implement our IT reorganization.  It had been a particularly difficult day for her dealing with team issues.  She asked me, “What kind of science project do you have me on?”


I have no doubt that Tonjua and her teammates will meet their goals.  The team is a very diverse team with strong skills in this particular area.  Their shared thinking will yield products that will be better than they would have without their contributions.  This is no doubt a tough gig for Tonjua, and maybe tough for some to watch.  But, these are the right people to create the right product for the organization with the right leadership.


For a CIO, creating the right senior leadership team to create a “great” CIO organization is critical.  Jim Collins implores us to first get the right people on the bus, to build the superior team.   After this is done, a CIO and her team can figure out the path to greatness.


In the book “Senior Leadership Teams” (by Ruth Wageman, et. al.), the authors identify essential conditions that senior leaders should establish for their leadership teams:


(1)   Create a real team, rather than one that is a team in name only,

(2)   Provide the team with a clear and compelling purpose, and

(3)   Ensure that the team consists of members who have the knowledge, skill and experience required for the team’s work.


Perhaps my first lesson in the importance of this was as a young French horn player at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC.  My best friend Donna and I were both experienced seniors and very capable horn players.  Our band director wanted us to have the best chance of winning a band competition after coming in second place the year before.  He added two beginner horn players to fill out our section.  Donna and I thought they were awful and since we wanted to win too, we told the two of them to hold their horn but don’t play — ever.  When we were playing our award winning performance, I heard the most beautiful sounds from the French horn section.  The two newbies decided to practice on their own – honing their skills.  And practice they did.  On performance day, the “four” of us sounded so good, the judges made a special note of the beautiful French horn section – the lovely French horn team.


Ironically, one the songs we played beautifully was “People”:


“People who need people, are the luckiest people, in the world”


Great organizations are built with great people.  And CIOs who know this are indeed the luckiest people in the world.


Linda Y. Cureton