3 Lessons to Be a Bold Government Leader


Feds have good reasons for sticking with the status quo. But lack of action also has consequences.

Well-behaved women seldom make history, though the same could be said for government employees.

“A lot of us in government get stuck with this idea that government can’t be bold because we don’t take action to make change,” said National Defense University Chancellor Jan Hamby at Bold Friday, an event hosted by Government Executive and Nextgov.

Feds have good reasons for sticking with the status quo: they don’t want to get in trouble, they don’t want to get their bosses in trouble and they don’t want to waste taxpayer dollars. But lack of action also has consequences.

“A ship in port is safe, but that is not where ships are meant to be,” Hamby said, attributing the quote to her mentor Adm. Grace Hopper.

So how can feds disrupt their own agencies? Here are a few tips from the Bold Friday speakers who have gone through the process of pivoting programs, revamping processes and launching innovative projects:

1. Be a servant-leader.

“That’s when the leader is willing to invest themselves and put themselves at risk for the benefit of their followers,” Hamby said. In her first year as NDU chancellor, she said she put her on job on the line with an ambitious pitch to pivot the school’s curriculum to better serve the military’s cybersecurity operations.

Though Hamby and her staff expected to launch fall 2017, military brass wanted it sooner—as in last fall. Sixteen have graduated from the retooled program.

2. Don't be afraid to break what you built.

FedRAMP, the government’s cloud service producer certification program, had a problem. Authorizations were taking longer and longer, and the FedRAMP team was hearing more criticism from industry, the agencies waiting for authorizations and the press.

“It was sign we needed to change,” Claudio Belloli, FedRAMP program manager for cybersecurity, said.

Then, according to Belloli, the team had an a-ha moment.

“We created FedRAMP," he said. "We created the authorization process that we were using up to that time. And there was no reason we had to stick to that—and clearly no reason to stick to a program that’s starting to break.”

So a year ago, the team started to reimagined the program and came up with FedRAMP Accelerated, which recently authorized its first cloud service provider in 15 weeks.

Change isn’t a one-time thing, Belloni said, and now the FedRAMP team is open to possibility it’ll have to mix up the program in a year or two.

3. Give credit freely.

Everyone involved in a project needs to know how their efforts push the mission forward, said Arianne Gallagher, the Office of Management and Budget’s federal hiring change agent. Gallagher helped establish the Presidential Innovation Fellows program in 2012 using existing federal hiring rules. The program’s success relied on agencies willing to work with the fellows, and the many lawyers and administrative staffers figuring out how to bring candidates onboard.

“You’ll be surprised how much you can get accomplished in government—and anywhere—if you don’t care who gets the credit,” Gallagher said.