Feds learn hands-on leadership lessons

'You have to put your heart and soul into being a leader, otherwise people will not follow. The program reinvigorated me in a lot of ways.'

'USDA's Rand Ruggieri

J. Adam Fenster

A fellows program is helping e-government managers learn how to become e-government leaders.

The Council for Excellence in Government program stresses that leadership comes from building relationships, creating and maintaining a vision, and focusing on results.

'We want the participants to understand how they can be more effective as public-sector leaders applying technology to organizational transformation,' said David McClure, vice president for the Washington nonprofit group.

The one-year program kicks off its fourth session next month. So far, the program has graduated more than 100 federal employees.

The program costs $10,000 for tuition, plus travel costs. Most participants come from CIO offices in the Washington area, but there often are state and local participants, too.
It's a worthwhile investment, said Rand Ruggieri, an Agriculture Department manager who recently finished his e-government fellowship.

Gut instinct

'The program showed that you have to put your heart and soul into being a leader, otherwise people will not follow. It reinvigorated me in a lot ways,' said Ruggieri, deputy director for strategic operations for USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service.

The course focuses more on getting results than on technical issues, McClure said. For instance, instructors urge participants to ask themselves how their personal visions and goals align with their agencies' missions.

To broaden the participants' frame of reference, the program includes meetings with senior federal officials and field trips to public- and private-sector and nonprofit organizations to see how they handle changing information systems.

'We want the participants to see what others are doing and learn from them,' McClure said. 'There are valuable lessons to be learned from the commercial sector, but they struggle with the transformation issues just like the government does.'

Ruggieri's class traveled to Washington state to visit Microsoft Corp., the city government of University Place and Weyerhaeuser Corp., a paper and wood processing company. Officials from all three entities discussed how they tackled change management, and technology and business integration.

'It was good to hear from people who were doing this in real life because it married the academic readings we were doing,' Ruggieri said. 'You realize we are all struggling with integration and turf battles.'

One of the benefits of the program are the friendships created, Ruggieri said, adding that he now has a list of people at other agencies with whom he can discuss problems.

'The council has it right in the sense that it is the lack of leadership that is at the root of some of our problems in government,' he said. 'This program was valuable to help solve some of those problems.'

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