Wennergren practices positive thinking

Navy’s CIO will soon bring his sunny leadership style to the Pentagon

Employees who work for the Navy’s chief information officer all belong to the same book club. Each month they read the book club selection, and they invite its author to speak and discuss how they might apply the book’s lessons to their work. The book of the month is always about one of two topics: leadership or management.

Expanding Boundaries, the name of the book club, was the brainchild of Navy CIO Dave Wennergren. It’s one of the ways he cultivates relationships among employees and puts them in charge of their own development.

People need opportunities to consider new ideas and think differently, Wennergren said. He asks everyone who works for him to enroll each year in a course or professional certification program. He puts lots of energy into building an organizational culture, and he encourages others to do the same.

“Make sure your organization is a learning organization,” he said. 

Leaders who talk about change will soon experience it. On Nov. 27, Wennergren will become the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for information management and technology and DOD’s deputy CIO, where he expects to build on the work he did for the Navy and Marine Corps. He said his new mission will be “making sure that the broader DOD team works together and works well with its allies and coalition partners.”

Change management

Wennergren said he believes in positive thinking. He said everyone at an organization can choose to be a positive force and make a difference.
John Lussier, the Navy’s deputy CIO, said Wennergren focuses on personal relationships and has a positive energy that permeates the office. “He’s an extremely positive guy,” Lussier said.

As Navy CIO, Wennergren has overseen  big changes at the Defense Department, and he tries to help the organization deal with those changes. “The pace of change is relentless,” he said. 

The growth of new technologies is spiraling, Wennergren said. Leaders must make decisions faster, resulting in shorter windows of opportunity for making a difference. “If you take years to get from idea to completion, you will not only be in this constant chase of [finding]the right technology, you will constantly be in the process of defending why you’re doing what you’re doing, trying to create energy around what you’re doing,” he said.

At DOD, people move from job to job, he said. If projects take too long to finish, critical employees will move on and momentum will fade, he said.

“Change management is all about how do you look at what really needs to be done, being able to have that objective view and then being able to communicate why the new path is better,” he said.

Part of change management involves managing people’s expectations, Wennergren said. People expect benefits immediately, but productivity turbulence is natural during a new idea’s implementation. He said good managers find ways to minimize the disruption and communicate effectively about the long-term benefits of change.

Wennergren began his 26-year Navy career as a management analyst after attending Mansfield University in Pennsylvania. He delved into public/private competition issues and participated in three rounds of Base Realignment and Closure procedures. Then he became involved in managing logistics for the Navy’s installation management arm.

In 1998, Wennergren became deputy CIO of the Navy under Dan Porter. Wennergren said working with Porter had a profound effect on his management outlook. There he learned the importance of quickly getting to know people’s strengths and weaknesses.

Wennergren’s activities reach beyond his organization. He is vice chairman of the CIO Council and chairman of the DOD Identity Protection and Management Senior Coordinating Group, which coordinates and oversees DOD’s biometric, smart card and public-key infrastructure initiatives.

“I am a huge believer in the power of strategic dialogue,” he said.

He is also a big proponent of knowledge management, an initiative in which the Navy has played a big role.

Thinking across organizational boundaries is more important than it has ever been, Wennergren said.

“What can we do that will allow people to navigate across network boundaries to get to the intellectual capital they need?” he asked. That’s a challenge no management change leader can walk away from.

Wennergren by the bookDave Wennergren, the Navy’s chief information officer, chooses leadership and management books for a reading group he created, the Expanding Boundaries book club. His recent choices include:

Jim Collins, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don’t.” Its lesson: Choose team members carefully to “get the right people on the bus.”

Howard Gardner, “Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership.” Its lesson: Leaders must have the ability to tell a compelling story simply, explain change
and counter competing voices that might oppose change.

John Kotter, “Leading Change.” Its lesson: Let people know that progress is producing results, building enthusiasm and maintaining perseverance throughout the change process.

Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.” Its lesson: Measure progress while change is ongoing. “If you can’t see that you’re actually making progress getting to the place that you wanted to get to, then you will drift along,” Wennergren said.
— Josh Rogin

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