My strategy for adding content to this blog was going to be to start off with a summary posting of the main lessons I had learned from 32 years of government service, and then while away the next few weeks by fleshing out each of the lessons. But I came across this article (it was sent to me by a young man who is trying to carve out a career in national security issues) and I was so impressed by one particular quote from Admiral Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that I needed to make note of it right away. In this piece Admiral Mullen is reflecting on what he has already learned about the Army during his tenure. And toward the end he talks about the Army being a learning organization and notes:
We are seeing people unafraid to challenge assumptions or old ways. Our midgrade noncommissioned officers and young captains love what they do. They have led in combat. They are remarkably resilient, and they do us all proud. Junior officers and enlisted men and women need to know that it is right to question the direction of their Service and seniors. In fact, they should be rewarded for it. That sort of feedback is healthy, and it foments the kind of change we need.
I am inspired by his words, which, from what I understand from people who know the Admiral, reflect his inner convictions. I also believe his view that junior officers should be rewarded for questioning the direction of their Service and seniors is not a universally-held or even majority conviction among members of the Senior Executive Service. I wish I could honestly write otherwise, but too many seniors I know still want to make decisions secretly, without engaging the workforce, and without inviting real debate.
One of the first steps toward improving the performance of our government is to empower the federal workforce to make a difference. They have good ideas–but they need more leaders who will respect them.
This Sunday, 28 February 2010, I officially retire from Federal Government service. I am smack dab in the middle of the Baby Boom, but very lucky to retire from my, I hope, first life at the young age of 55. As I ponder my choices for organizing my second life, I thought, what the heck, I should blog on what I seem to know something about–being a recovering Fed, although I reserve the right to write on other things that interest me.
So of what is this picture? Ah it is a picture I took about a year ago of the Mediterranean pine caterpillar, known as the procesionaria in Spain. If you’re hiking in Spain or France in pine forests in the spring you will see long trains of these caterpillars, they can be yards long, crawling across paths. They are blind I think and get very confused if the line is broken by a thoughtless mountain biker for example. What protects them from too many attacks is the poison they emit that can sicken your pets and small children. Here is a good resource on these little critters.
And I see them in some ways as a metaphor for many federal government executives, of which I was one. The linear approach, the following (not always blind…but sometimes), and the defense mechanisms when threatened. More later…