Go outside your comfort zone; keep strengthening your skills; engage with people from different backgrounds; and remember the mission. These were just a few tips that IC CIO John Sherman shared with more than 600 attendees during a virtual “Coffee and Conversation” event hosted by INSA (the Intelligence and National Security Alliance) on June 2.
Sherman – whose career has brought him to high-stakes posts such as serving as a duty officer in the White House Situation Room on September 11, 2001, being the Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Military Affairs, and holding several senior-level positions across the IC –highlighted his four key thoughts on executive leadership:
(1) Careers can take unexpected paths – so be flexible and learn each step, each position along the way.
(2) Build the core corporate skills that are crucial for senior leadership (e.g., budget development and management; strong network; media engagement and public speaking; understanding the national security policy process; working with international partners).
(3) Savor your victories, but learn from your mistakes … even if it’s difficult to do.
(4) Mentor colleagues (and make time to stay in touch with them), inspire your team and don’t ever forget the “why” behind our work (which can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of the day-to-day grind).
He also stressed the importance of asking the tough – and even fundamental – questions as a leader so you can absorb the issue and clearly communicate it to audiences. “Don’t’ be afraid to ask questions. If it doesn’t make sense to you, it’s probably a pretty good bet it is going to be too arcane for those you’re trying to present it to,” he remarked.
Sherman delivered the chat before he officially departs the IC next week to become the Principal Deputy CIO for the U.S. Department of Defense. Sherman has served as the IC CIO role since September 2017.
He briefly reflected on his time in the IC and offered a few words of advice for those interested in joining the IC ranks. “It’s going to be a long marathon. Be ready. Buckle your chinstrap. Be willing to learn. Be there for your teammates,” he said. “If there’s ever a team sport, this is it. I would not be anywhere where I am right now without the great group of CIOs I’ve had a chance to work with across the inter-agency.”
Office of the Director of National Intelligence