Editor’s note: The winner of the Chief Officer Awards Government CDO Award announced June 17 is Eileen Vidrine of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense.
On June 17, WashingtonExec will be virtually celebrating the most impactful and innovative C-suite executives in government and industry. These chief officers work in technology, security, data, operations, finance, business and more, excelling on both sides of the government contracting sector. Our team of judges have chosen the finalists for the inaugural Chief Officer Awards, so before we announce the winners during the event, we wanted to get to know the finalists a bit better. This Q&A series highlights their careers, successes, proud professional moments and notable risks.
Teresa Smith is the chief data officer at Defense Logistics Agency and a finalist in the Government CDO Award category.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
To shape future leaders you have to open doors and provide tools for individuals to develop and hone skills, understand the business from several vantage points and give them opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned. This requires investing time in people, investing of yourself to help them.
I was very fortunate to have some wonderful mentors throughout my career, and I want to do the same for others. I try to give my team the option to try something new, to stretch themselves, to take on new challenges and to work with them to make a plan of how they can achieve their goals.
Sometimes, that means giving up a great team member to another area, so they gain new experiences. But as leaders, it is our responsibility to open doors, provide opportunities and give meaningful and constructive feedback.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
There is no shame in failing, the shame is in not trying. As long as we learn from our failures and don’t keep repeating them, then we can continue to learn and grow. I think it’s important to embrace a setback as a chance to assess what happened and figure out how to correct course, move forward or, if necessary, move on.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Never stop learning. I’ve long had a personal mantra, “No day is a bad day, as long as I have learned something new.” It doesn’t have to be a huge discovery; in fact, it can be many small lessons… but the learning is key.
We have so many resources at hand that there is really no excuse not to be a continual student. If we get to the point where we think we know everything about what we do, we’ve probably become stale and are missing so many opportunities to contribute in new ways to the organization and mission.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current agency?
Many of the DLA workforce have served in the military or have family members who serve, so it makes our mission of providing best value logistics support to warfighters very personal to them. I am proud to be part of such a dedicated and hard-working team.
Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?
I’m not sure if this is a rule, but a former boss encouraged us to challenge the status quo. “Why” is a powerful word, and we need to ask it more often and learn to look at things in new ways. I don’t mean just for process improvement, but even more fundamentally, such as whether we even need to continue doing certain things at all.
Sometimes, we take things for granted because they’ve been ingrained for so long, and we just don’t think to step back and consider a situation or problem in its entirety from a completely different perspective. Maybe the answer is to start from scratch.