Wells was nominated for avoiding furloughs and reductions in force during sequestration and maintaining a positive workforce environment. SSA has stayed in the top 10 of its category in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings since 2007.
Federal News Radio asked each Causey Award Winner to answer 10 questions about him or herself so that we could learn a little bit more about them. Here’s what Reginald Wells had to say:
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
My folks gave me the best piece of advice I ever received. They taught me always to leave things better than I found them. This advice has served me well in all things throughout my life.
What is the worst piece of advice you have ever received?
Encouragement to believe in the Horatio Alger Myth of the American Dream is one of the worst pieces of advice I ever received. There is no doubt that there is reward and utility in hard work and perseverance. However, it takes more than working hard and “keeping your nose clean” to be successful. The move toward success begins with access to pathways of opportunity. It begins with basics like proper nutrition, a nurturing home environment, a good education and a first job, and it can hinge on what appears to be luck or perseverance. A person who is interested in greater responsibility and opportunity must be willing to articulate their ambition to those who can guide them and assist them in achieving their goals.
I encourage people to find good mentors as an essential first step. Mentors are important as you navigate the world of work in pursuit of your dreams. It is not what you know, but who knows you know your stuff that matters. It is important to master the art and science of self-promotion without projecting narcissism, arrogance or overconfidence. For those aspiring to lead, self-mastery and self-awareness are paramount considerations. A person should not be trusted with the mantle of leadership without demonstrating the emotional intelligence required of the servant leader.
Who has been your biggest role model, and why?
My mom and dad are clearly my biggest role models. As you might guess from my earlier answers, they were hardworking, high integrity folks. My mother worked for the federal government for 45 years and my father worked for a factory and retired after 48 years. They instilled a sense of social justice that required me (and my older brother who served as a Marine in Vietnam and later as a medical doctor with the Department of Veterans Affairs, before his death) to assist and support those who are less fortunate. My parents taught us what it meant to be a good citizen in a civil society. They encouraged us to be strong in our faith, to value education and to go as far as our hard-earned credentials and personal initiative would carry us. Jim and Lorraine Wells stressed the importance of balance in all things, and they encouraged us to practice and uphold fundamental values and behaviors like honesty, punctuality and fairness in our relations with others. My dad passed away in 1991. My mom is still living independently and well in Philadelphia. As a retiree, she pays very close attention to what is happening in the federal government. Consequently, I have to watch what I say and do. She is not beyond giving me a piece of her mind if she thinks I am out of line or failing to live up to the family standards.
If I could have one super power it would be …
As a longtime fan of Marvel and DC Comics super heroes, I appreciate this question. While it would be cool to have powers like Spider-Man or Superman and I would love to have total fun with my answer, I feel compelled to be a bit more serious and thoughtful in answering your question given the significance of this opportunity. Given the current state of the world, I would like to have the ability to give precognition or “future sight” to all people who wield power and make decisions in the hope that they would feel a greater sense of empathy and responsibility for the consequences of their decision-making. Of course, my answer presupposes all those in power have a conscience. So I will amend my answer and say I would like to have the ability to instill a conscience where there is none and then give them the ability of “future sight” just before the decision-makers exercise their power.
We are capable of living up to America’s democratic ideals. In order to do so, however, we must come to terms with our personal and institutional failings, be forthright and honest about our historical shortcomings, and come together in the interest of One America where compromise is not a failing but a virtue.
If you didn’t work for the federal government, what would be your dream job?
My dream job would be developing people for leadership positions through teaching and executive coaching or playing jazz piano at upscale venues that pay huge amounts of money. Of course, the latter would require me to have skill as a jazz pianist and I currently lack that talent.
If resources were not an issue, I would motivate my staff with …
A budget that allows me to train and develop each Office of Human Resources employee as much as necessary to fill skill gaps that improve their performance and ability to support the shrinking Social Security Administration workforce.
The greatest federal HR challenge is …
For many people, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is the face of government. SSA, like many federal, state and local government agencies, experiences the challenge of acquiring, developing and retaining sufficient numbers of employees to meet the needs of the American public. Increasing workloads, decreasing budgets, pay and hiring freezes, sporadic hiring patterns, and the barrage of negative rhetoric about civil servants erode public confidence and the discretionary effort of the federal workforce. The greatest HR challenge is continuing to meet the needs of the public and maintaining a professional workforce.
What is the last book you read?
I rarely read one book at a time. The last four books I completely or mostly read were “Atrocities” by Matthew White; “The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace” by Jack Kornfield; “The Warrior Ethos” by Steven Pressfield; and “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change” by Pema Chodron.
I’d rather be …
I love the expression “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” so with that adage in mind “I’d rather be lucky than good.”
Federal News Radio awarded five individuals with a 2013 Causey Award. Read more about each of the recipients.