GCN Hall of Fame | Ira Hobbs: A long labor of love

2007 GCN Award: Hobbs brought a personal touch to collaboration

HEAR, HEAR: Ira Hobbs says listening is the key to leadership.

Zaid Hamid

Ira Hobbs started his government career in a Presidential Management Internship program during the Carter administration. The program entailed assignments in a range of disciplines, from human resources to finance and other functional areas in government.

For the complete list of the 2007 GCN Award winners, click here


While awaiting assignment, he complained to his mentor that the information technology staff did not provide enough support to other parts of the
organization.

His complaint resulted in a 120-day assignment in the IT department. 'To make a long story short,' he said, 'it became a labor of love.'

After his training program, he went on to work in the IT department and, eventually, various upper-management posts in the IT ranks at the Agriculture Department, including seven years as deputy chief information officer. Ultimately, he became Treasury Department CIO in June 2004, a job he retired from in January.

Ann Reed, president at Acquisitions Solutions and USDA CIO when Hobbs became deputy, worked with Hobbs for years. 'I first met Ira as the deputy assistant secretary for administration at the USDA,' Reed said. 'We were looking for someone to lead our office of operations [in] an organization that had many management challenges at the time.'

Reed said Hobbs' responsibilities were diverse but important, ranging from operating a mailroom employing mentally challenged workers to running the physical plant for the second-largest federal facility in Washington, staffed by unionized blue-collar professionals.

Hobbs also was responsible for major acquisitions and procurements and established departmentwide policies for facilities, acquisition and emergency management.
'Ira was selected to head that office and did a superb job,' Reed said. 'When I became CIO, I knew I needed someone with his deep change management and leadership skills, and I knew he also had an IT background.'

Although understanding technology is important, Hobbs said, you do not necessarily have to be a technical guru to be an IT leader and manager. For example, he said, it is more about team building, political influence and other skill sets at the top of an organization. 'You need a business sense of what IT brings to a mission, moving the program forward,' Hobbs said. 'The important skills are related to the mission. You should be able to engage people in the language of the business.'
IT workers, likewise, 'must know the value of IT from a business perspective. IT workers must have adaptability and agility to be a bit-and-byte person [but also] understand the business.'

Hobbs said he motivated employees by sharing his goals and visions and using an effective technique: listening. He said listening is one of the greatest things a manager can do to motivate employees.

'To me, it's personal engagement,' Hobbs said, adding that people need to feel they are an important part of a team effort. 'It's being built by you and them.'
'Managing people is tough work,' he said. 'It's about building trust collaboratively; to engender relationships, to help get you where you need to go.'
He also stressed the importance of recognition ' on-the-spot awards and other shows of appreciation to thank staff members for their effort.

Many great leaders and managers are described as having a secret to their success, but Hobbs implies that it's really no secret at all: 'Take care of the people who take care of the business.'

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