Welles: How to turn a ship

Deidre Lee: To be effective at leading change, government leaders must love a good fight

Deidre Lee has some advice for those who question whether genuine change is possible in government. Lee, director of management and chief acquisition officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said people can make a difference in government if they have what it takes.

 “You have to love a good fight and understand that there are a lot of players” involved in any change, she said. “You need them all to make changes.”

Judy Welles Lee’s comment resembles one made years ago by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the four-term president, who said he loved a good fight. That means that to move your organization and yourself ahead, you have to exercise leadership in the workplace, which can be a contentious environment.  

Lee has risen to senior executive rank and tackled major jobs and responsibilities at four federal agencies. She outlined her management advice for those ready for the next step in their careers. In a recent address to Executive Women in Government, a professional organization for female executives in the federal government, Lee offered a list of seven keys to success.

1. Be current and stay current. “Especially with information technology, know how to use the latest and greatest,” Lee said. Take a class, read the newspaper every morning and stay informed, she added. As an example, while she was director of procurement and acquisition policy at the Defense Department, Lee began a book club with staff members and colleagues. They read the latest books on management. 

2. Be reliable, honest and fair. “Ethics and integrity do matter,” Lee said. Referring to the employee performance evaluation process, she said, “It’s not a popularity contest. Be direct and tough, not wishy-washy, in helping staff know what they need to do to improve.” Part of being fair as a manager, she said, is having the ability to differentiate performance levels among employees.

3. Deliver on your promises. “Work hard and deliver results,” she said, adding that working hard does not necessarily mean always working late. “Details matter.” When developing a plan or managing a project, for example, details are often the actions that must take place before subsequent activities can occur.

4. Network. Pick one association in which you become an active member. “You might find your next job” through that group, she said.

5. Communicate.
Make sure others know what you are doing. One way is to proclaim, “I finished the report,” or to otherwise announce what you have just accomplished.  Lee also advised knowing how your boss wants things communicated. “If the boss wants everything done in charts in blue, do charts in blue,” she said.

6. Use e-mail with care.
Lee said people should be cautious about communicating using government computers. She advised people to be careful and wise in communicating and not to use government computers for personal e-mail.

7. Change jobs. If you value your career and also want to make a difference in government, Lee advised changing jobs every five to seven years. “If you can’t make a difference in five years, you can’t make a difference,” she said.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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