Col. Victoria A. Velez - DISA: The power of sharing
Col. Victoria A. Velez - DISA: The power of sharing<@VM>Online Extra Q&A: Col. Victoria A. Velez
- By Richard W. Walker
- Apr 14, 2004
At JITC, Velez leads by letting others take responsibility
'If you instill trust in people, they tend to strive a little harder and be more creative in fulfilling goals.' -- Air Force Col. Victoria Velez
For Air Force Col. Victoria A. Velez, the word 'empower' has become a bit worn-out. But she still embraces the idea it conveys.
'I hate to use the word 'empower' because I think sometimes people overuse it,' said Velez, commander of the Defense Information Systems Agency's Joint Interoperability Test Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
'But if you instill trust in people and allow them to take responsibility, they tend to strive a little harder and be more creative in fulfilling the goals and objectives of the task you've assigned,' she said.
'I think people get a lot of job satisfaction by architecting and implementing solutions themselves,' she said. 'They take a lot more personal responsibility for the process and the outcome.'
As the Defense Department's only joint interoperability certifier, JITC plays a central role in making sure critical information systems used by the department meet interoperability requirements for joint military operations.
With an annual budget of more than $100 million, JITC tests and certifies joint interoperability of command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems.
As JITC commander, Velez, 46, leads more than 900 employees including active-duty personnel, civil-service staff and support contractors.
Her philosophy of leadership, based on the idea of empowerment and delegating responsibility, has matured over the course of her 22-year career in the Air Force.
'I wish I could say I had good mentors but I didn't, so I had to evolve my leadership philosophy by doing and learning from my mistakes,' she said. 'And trust me, as a youngster I made plenty of mistakes. But the Air Force gave me super opportunities to stretch and build my leadership muscle.'
A career in Air Force IT was almost a natural for Velez. Her father was an Air Force systems analyst on mainframe computers in the 1960s and '70s. 'That was my first exposure to data automation,' she said.
At the University of Maryland, she spent four years in Air Force ROTC while studying information systems management. 'At the time, the military was expanding horizons for women and it felt right,' she said.
Commissioned in 1981 after graduating from Maryland, Velez was assigned to Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, where she first served as chief of the logistics systems development branch. At the time, mainframes were still the bread and butter of Air Force data automation.
But small computers were just coming out and Velez was intrigued. She asked to be assigned to the base's small-computer center, where she planned software development and helped create training for programs in Europe.
As she climbed the Air Force career ladder, Velez held a variety of management positions at the Electronic Security Command in San Antonio, the Electronic Security Wing at RAF Chicksands, England, and the Air Force Communications and Information Center in Washington.
In 1998 she became commander of the 93rd Computer Systems Squadron of the 93rd Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., supporting the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System.
Before becoming JITC commander last August, she was chief of the Communications Programs Management Branch for the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
Having no real mentors along the way, Velez abundantly understands the importance of mentoring.
'Because I never had it, I've always been happy to mentor any folks who ask for it,' she said.
'I've had a lot of satisfaction along the way because I think the people I have mentored have done pretty well.'
'The real challenge for us is seeing the big picture and seeing how what you do fits into the big picture,' she said. 'That's the kind of thing I try to pass on to junior folks'that what they do and the quality of what they do makes a big difference to the big picture.'
Another aspect of Velez's approach to leadership is providing plenty of feedback to employees and making sure they are continually challenged.
Velez has a mantra: 'Every morning I wake up and tell myself to do the right thing'and make a difference.'Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to move up to the manager level?
It will be challenging, but the rewards are many. Be fair, be ready to make the hard decisions (especially when the "oh, no's" occur), always remember there are two sides to every story (listen well) and go into management with your eyes wide open to the many possibilities for failure and success.
Without a doubt, always do your very best and strive to make a difference.
Q: What's the best advice you received, and from whom?
Best advice: To be myself, be wise and treat others as I would want to be treated. From: My parents!
Q: Why government service?
Joining the military was due, in part, to my father, who spent 20 years in the Air Force'I'm second-generation Air Force. He offered it as a great opportunity to learn, grow and develop great skills'and he was right! My mother supported the decision from the onset and she has been my biggest cheerleader.
Since my commissioning as a 2nd lieutenant in 1981, I've had wonderful opportunities that I doubt I would have had in another realm.
The clear benefits of government service include: learning very early to lead and manage groups of people (small and large), meeting and working with wonderful professionals and expanding my skills by being challenged to do something different in each job I've been given. I'm very proud to be associated with such a great nation and feel fortunate to have played an integral part as a member of the armed forces in supporting and defending my nation.
Q: How important is mentoring in developing a good manager?
Mentoring is very important'it allows a person to see a problem from a different perspective and the feedback is critical in growing into a better leader and manager. It's hard to develop your skills or redirect your path if there's no one pointing out potential steps to improve yourself or the shortfalls in your plan. Learn from others and seek their wisdom and experience'it's invaluable.
Q: What part does fun play in your work?
Fun is definitely important'and laughter makes a difficult situation easier to cope with. I try to do as my boss advocates: take the job seriously, but not myself. I heartily advocate laughing hard and often.
Q: How do you balance work and home life?
In all honesty, I wish I was better at doing this'I can't say I've been very successful at balancing home and work. I'm committed to getting the job done and if it means a 12-to-14-hour day and weekends too, so be it.
We don't have the same resources as days gone by, so as a military member, I do what needs to be done despite my personal needs. It's a small sacrifice, especially when others have sacrificed much more'they have given the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.