Senior Executives Association

The December 13th 2018 Senior Executives Association Presidential Rank Awards Leadership Summit was a day full celebration, thought leadership, networking and professional development education.   More than 500 senior leaders from government, the private sector and academia were on hand to recognize the 131 Presidential Rank Awards and have peer-to-peer discussions.   In addition, distinguished keynote speakers – Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette; Margaret Weichert, Acting Director of OPM and Deputy Director for Management at OMB; and Joseph Heck, Chairman of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service – discussed their leadership philosophies and recognized the enormous accomplishments of the PRA honorees.

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Mentor Aspiring Senior Executives

We’re about to start up this year’s mentoring program with Young Government Leaders, and we need many volunteers. To that end, I want to remind us all why America needs a robust Senior Executive Service in the 21st Century, and why passing on our (hard-earned?) experience to our young leaders is so important.

Here’s three points:

First, we live in “the age of accelerations,” as Thomas Friedman says in his new book, "Thank You for Being Late". Friedman defines the “Machine” as the world’s big gears and pulleys – the global economy: “Hint: the Machine is being driven by simultaneous accelerations in technology [Moore’s law], globalization [the Market], and climate change [Mother Nature], all interacting with one another.” Nobody knew the Machine could be so complicated! While few of us seniors can instruct young leaders about today’s technology, we know something about complexity, having worked on wicked problems in large organizations. And we should have gained the ability to see from here to the future, and be very concerned about climate change and other unintended consequences of our actions.

Second, in this transition year and in years to come, we can share our past experiences with politically appointed supervisors. As the Trump Administration staffs up, more civil servants will have more interactions with fewer political appointees. These interactions require both immediate personal skills and longer perspectives on agency activities and priorities. With our help, young leaders can learn lessons from what they see around them. Two stories from my career: I attended many of Elliot Richardson’s staff meetings when he was Commerce Secretary. He said that he wanted everyone at the meetings, so that even if a decision went against you, at least you had heard all the arguments. And years later, a political appointee said to me, “They really like you here! I don’t care that they don’t like me – they have to do what I say, I’m the boss.” I knew then it was time to look for another position!

And, President Trump may not appoint all the 4,000 (1,000 Senate-confirmed) political positions. He’s quoted in Government Executive’s Fedblog (February 28th) as saying “I look at some of the jobs and it’s people over people over people. What do all these people do? You don’t need all those jobs.” Tomorrow’s Senior Executives may be filling some of today’s upper management positions! Here’s a comparison: in a paper in the Boston University International Law Journal in 2012, Mark Eisen said “Britain has fewer political appointees than an average in-coming law school class, while the political appointees in the U.S. could fill an entire liberal arts college. Britain has just over 100 government appointees while the U.S. has over one thousand subject to Senate approval and many more not subject to confirmation.” Our world may be changing.

Third, and most compelling to me, is that mentoring our young leaders is fun! I enjoy every minute of our meetings. I learn about their lives, perspectives, and goals, and they really listen, in ways that (ahem) my grown children often did not. They know they have much to learn.

This year we are giving each SEA mentor only one YGL mentee. As with last year, there will be many, many members of YGL who aspire to the SES and would like a mentor. You will not be asked to go to many meetings, although I like to meet almost monthly with my mentees, and we exchange emails more frequently. We are planning to celebrate the program at this year’s SEA Annual Meeting, planned for fall 2017.

Please reflect on the lessons you learned on your path to the Senior Executive Service, and come out and help those who will come after us, keeping America together and moving forward. Please send me an email at You’ll love it.


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Tags: leadership, opportunities, YGL

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