Government leadership conversation series: Part one

A conversation with Angela Bailey, chief human capital officer, Department of Homeland Security

​Interview blog series by David Dye, managing director Deloitte Consulting LLP Federal Human Capital practice, with Federal government leaders to discuss their personal leadership journey, their agency's approach to leadership development, and the human capital challenges faced by the government.

In 2017, Deloitte and Senior Executives Association (SEA) published the State of Federal Career Senior Leadership Survey to analyze trends in three key areas that will drive agency transformation: the leadership pipeline, executive readiness, and transformational leadership. In this blog series, David Dye, a managing director in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Federal Human Capital practice, continues the conversation by interviewing leaders in the Federal government to discuss their personal leadership journey, their agency’s approach to leadership development, and the human capital challenges facing the government at large.

Today, Dave is speaking with Angie Bailey. Ms. Bailey has dedicated nearly 37 years to public service, with close to 30 of those years in human resources. Ms. Bailey was appointed as the Department of Homeland Security’s chief human capital officer (CHCO) in January 2016. She is responsible for the Department’s human capital program, which includes human resources policy, systems, and programs for strategic workforce planning, recruitment and hiring, pay and leave, performance management, employee development, executive resources, labor relations, work/life and safety and health. She also served as the chief operating officer (COO) for the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) from November 2013 to January 2016.

Dave Dye (DD): What's top of mind for you in terms of leadership challenges?

Angie Bailey (AB): The biggest thing I worry about is how well we have prepared and grown our Senior Executive Service corp. There are many programs designed to do such, but at the end of the day, how many really are prepared? Have we prepared them to take calculated risks; have the resiliency to weather many storms; lead a diverse group of individuals who can achieve results; and somehow balance their work and their life. Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), we have invested in our SES. One program we are quite proud of is our Capstone Program—one of the most robust, forward-thinking leadership programs I’ve seen in my 37 years. What I love about DHS is that leadership is willing to follow me down very untraditional paths. For example, we brought in Shakespeare’s King Henry V to learn about leadership through the lens of history. Folks were really engaged, people weren't on their phones, or skipping out halfway through. They said it was some of the best leadership development they’ve had and they appreciated the opportunity to explore leadership in a non-traditional way. When we can figure out how to get people to stretch themselves in ways that they haven't thought of, that's the best way we can help grow our leadership.

In reading the State of Federal Career Leadership survey results, I noticed we’re choosing leaders with strong technical skills. I still believe strong technical skills in your line of business is smart. I'm beyond tired of hearing how “anybody can do HR.” Being a retired mukety-muck with lots of great experience but none in Federal HR is a recipe for disaster. It is true a leader can lead just about anyone, but an excellent leader will know something about the field in which she is leading—or is at a minimum willing to learn the subject area to the extent that he can provide vision, strategic direction and hands-on help where needed. Inspirational leadership will only carry you so far—you must combine that with strong technical skills to ensure you have the credibility necessary to carry out the mission.

DD: I’m hearing three things. We need to make sure we prepare and grow our leaders. We need to provide nontraditional leadership experiences. And let's not forget about technical skills in creating a well-rounded leader.

AB: And, we need to be careful about not just seeking out folks we’ve worked within the past or who are “just like us.” I have to be responsible enough to seek out people I haven't worked with before, who balance out my skill set. I’m the product of someone who took a chance on me. She didn't know me from anywhere; yet she was willing to seek talent from outside her agency and here I am. As we're growing the pipeline we have to grow it in such a way that we remember to seek out talent from within and outside our agencies—it is the best way to diversify your talented staff.

DD: Let's transition to executive readiness. We always say there's probably a lot of Mark Zuckerbergs out there and we're just not finding them. In addition to building the pipeline, how can we make sure we're finding the right people?

AB: I’ve always been a fan of realistic, situational assessments. Instead of asking people—tell me about a time when…, we should fly folks into a location with no instructions once they arrive and observe how they behave or handle the situation. Do they blow a gasket? Do they go to the bar and get a drink? Do they yell at their executive assistant? We learn a lot about people when we observe them in a crisis situation, with very little data or information to guide them. We need to do more observation of how people are in a given situation because it shows better what kind of leader they'll be. After all, isn’t it more realistic that we are asked to make a decision with little to no information, or there’s a “crisis,” which can be small in our eyes, but huge in our employees’ eyes?

You can see these kinds of things when you go to lunch or dinner with someone. Are they nice to the waiter? Do they hold the door for people or are they so in their own heads that they don't notice? Are they on their phone instead of engaged in a conversation? In other words, we need to put as much energy into understanding their emotional intelligence as we do their technical skills. When we get them both right, then we will have found the “right people.”

DD: Basically, there's a lot of different ways to develop as a leader inside or outside of the classroom.

AD: Yes, and we should be doing all of that before they become an SES. Waiting until they become an SES and saying, “Now we're going to send you off to charm school,” is a little too late. One area we need to invest in for our GS-14 and GS-15s is political savvy. We live in a world that is bigger than ourselves, and we need to understand how and where we fit into the world (and “world” can be defined as your agency, the administration’s agenda, congressional intent, basically anything that is outside of our sphere of control). Second thing I would emphasize is curiosity. You cannot google everything. Well, ok, you can, but once you have the information, you need to be curious about why something happened or what story the data is telling you. The more we ask people why do you think that happened; what is the data telling you; what is your Plan B, the better we will become at growing our talented teams.

DD: In terms of the future of leadership, what are your closing thoughts on leadership as a profession?

AB: Leadership as a profession is a great way to put it. In many ways when thinking of leadership as a profession, it reminds me of the military model, in particular the Marine Corps, where there is a belief that every one of us must be prepared to lead at all times. In that model, if anything were to happen to the leader, the last man or woman standing would understand the fundamentals of leadership and have the ability to build and lead a new team, climb the next hill or take the next corner. For an organization to sustain and thrive, we need to invest in building leaders at every level. Just as importantly, we need to take responsibility to invest in ourselves as well, to ensure we are the best leaders we can be for our teams who depend on us every single day.

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