Teresa Smith serves as the Defense Logistics Agency’s chief data officer and director of strategic data services for DLA Information Operations, and she’s a Pinnacle Awards finalist in the DOD Government Executive of the Year category. Here, Smith shares what she is most proud of having been a part of in DLA, bouncing back from failures, how she helps shape the next generation of government leaders and more.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
It may seem simple, but I’ve learned how important it is to keep trying. You shouldn’t always look at failure as a bad thing; it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. Not one of us is perfect; we are all going to fail in some way at something (or many somethings). Embrace the setback as a chance to assess what happened and figure out how to correct course, move forward or, if necessary, move on.
I get Pascal Finette’s “The Heretic” newsletter, and I really like how he characterizes it: “The key to success lies in knowing how to both strive for a lot and fail well… Failing well means focusing on the learning instead of the failure itself.”
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
In 2015, I had the opportunity to complete a 6-month deployment to Afghanistan, as the deputy commander of DLA’s contingency support team. I completely stepped outside of my personal and professional comfort zones with that assignment. Having worked for DLA for 30 years at the time, I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about everything we do, but that deployment was eye-opening and life-changing for me.
I learned so much about the commodities and services we provide, what we bring to supporting the warfighter, and the importance of that support, in ways I never considered. It made me realize I had become a bit too complacent and comfortable, and sparked a desire in me to take on another new challenge, expand and build on my knowledge — ultimately prompting me to make the career change that placed me in the newly created DLA chief data officer role.
I’ve been in this position for almost three years, and every day brings a new challenge and something new to learn, and I’m loving every minute of it!
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current agency?
I feel so fortunate to be part of such a great team of dedicated professionals who always remember who we support. Many of our workforce are serving or have served in the military, or they have family members who serve, and our mission to provide the best value logistics support to our warfighters is personal to them. We think about that and talk about it, recognizing how the decisions and actions we take each day can and often do ultimately impact the lives of those on the frontlines. Our director calls our people the “secret sauce” of DLA, and I absolutely agree with that perspective.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders?
I’ve been fortunate to work in a number of areas of DLA and be exposed to many facets of this business. Along the way, I’ve also had some great mentors — people who invested in me and took the time to not only ensure I had solid skills and understanding of the work, but also encouraged me to take on new challenges. I try to pay that forward, to invest in my team members and help them achieve their goals and their full potential.
It may be offering training or development opportunities, being a sounding board, sharing what I know, or helping them figure out where they want to go next in their career… I truly believe that is one of the most important roles I have.
What has made you successful in your current role?
I am surrounded and supported by a fantastic team. While the jobs and responsibilities I’ve had throughout my career have given me the knowledge and ability to perform in this current role, it’s the people I work with who make our mission successful.
I am partnered with tremendously talented and hardworking individuals who are committed to advancing data and analytics in DLA. This includes my direct team members who think out of the box and consistently deliver impressive results, a host of stakeholders who hold us accountable and challenge us to provide greater levels of service, a great group of peers and other groups within our organization to bring the vision to life, and my leadership who provide guidance, support and assistance. Without all of them, I would just be a person pedaling really hard but not making a lot of progress.