Beverly Godwin, the director of the Federal Citizen Information Center at the General Services Administration, inspires her staff even when she’s not aware of it.
In December, Federal News Radio put out the call for federal workers to nominate top leaders in their offices. A dozen of Godwin’s staff members nominated her, making her the person with the most nominations overall.
When Godwin learned that she’d been named one of Federal News Radio’s Top Leaders in Federal Service, and that so many people had submitted her name, she was floored. “I’m a very hard person to surprise because I’m always watching things,” she said. “I’m always asking detailed questions. Throughout my life, people have tried to give me surprise parties and they’ve never succeeded. I was totally surprised.”
For Godwin’s team, the Top Leaders Awards was an ideal opportunity to recognize her leadership skills.
“Bev is truly one of those all-around, exceptional leaders who not only strives for and achieves operational excellence, but she’s also, really, really, truly exceptional in her ability to motivate and inspire others,” said Kathy Conrad, principal deputy administrator in GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies. “She has long believed in the power of the people around her, and so has really built a tremendously successful, talented team. And, I think, as a group, we all felt like it would be fabulous to recognize her leadership that she brings not only to our office and to GSA, but also to the people on her team.”
Supervisory Federal Information Specialist Mary Ann Monroe agreed with Conrad.
“She is the best boss that I’ve ever had and that’s because she demonstrates by actions all the things that make a workplace wonderful,” she said. “At the core of everything that Bev does is this belief that the government has an obligation to make life easier for people. They give us their trust and we have to give back to them convenience, reliability, accountability and transparency.”
One of the ways Godwin motivates her staff is by presenting the Hero of the Week award to a member of the Federal Citizen Information Center for a job well done.
“The award is simply a strange looking trophy that is passed on to the winner and they display on their desk all week,” Monroe said. “It’s also good because she awards for tangible results, not just for ‘being nice’ or being a ‘hard worker.’ It motivates everyone to think about their works in a results driven way.”
Godwin has a simple formula for good leadership. “My primary philosophy as a leader is to treat your employees as your greatest resources,” she said. “They really are. If you, from the bottom of your heart, treat them like that, all else will fall into place.”
Godwin: Humility; passion for their work; willingness to share and give credit to those who work for them, and takes the blame when needed; truthfulness even when the truth may not always be pleasant; one who encourages the best in their people and allows them to run full steam ahead; and those who have good instincts for recognizing good leaders under them and allow them to flourish and innovate, realizing they do not need to be micro-managed.
What is your leadership philosophy?
Godwin: My primary leadership philosophy is our employees are our greatest resource and we must always treat them that way. Do that from the bottom of your heart, and everything else will fall into place. I also think one of my philosophies is to keep calm and have a sense of humor. We rarely deal with life and death situations. Keep things in perspective as people around you get stressed out.
Who inspired you as a leader when you were younger?
Godwin: When I was in the SES Candidate Program at HHS, I had a coach who really inspired me. One of the things she said to me was, “You don’t need more training, you need a bigger stage from which to show what you can do.” This instilled great confidence in me, and I’ve thought back on those words, and shared them with others over the years. I try to give my staff the biggest stage they can handle, even when they are not sure they can handle it, to show what they can do.
Who do you admire as a good leader now? Why?
Hillary Clinton because of her intellect and because she inspires confidence in the way she responds, such as during the recent congressional hearings.
The late Mother Teresa because she was so passionate about her work and because of her humility.
Marissa Mayer, formerly of Google, now CEO of Yahoo, who is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company and has been ranked as one of the top women in business for many years. I admire her because she is a techie by training who has become an executive, and she seems very down to earth and humble. Also, as a recent newlywed and young mother, she also seems to be able to balance worklife and family life, which is something we all need to value in our leaders.
Another leader who has recently come to my attention is Sharon Vosmek. As CEO of a start-up called Astia, Sharon Vosmek has an unwavering passion and uniquely well-suited background to drive forward the company’s mission of propelling women-owned start-ups to success. Sharon has doubled her company’s resources, which include mentors, coaches, sponsors, investors, thought-leaders and entrepreneurs that provide women-owned companies with counsel, coaching, guidance and advancement opportunities.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to improve their leadership skills?
Godwin: I have two pieces of advice that have helped me throughout my career:
Choose a mentor or coach who you respect as a leader. Meet with them regularly, informally and talk about your career dreams.
Practice your communication skills. It is so important as a leader to communicate in both directions.
Share information you have with your staff. They need it to do their jobs well and to see their jobs in the broader context.
Listen to them. They know better than you do how to do their jobs and usually have great ideas for further improvements.
Communicate to those above you. Let them know of the successes and brag about individuals on the team.
What’s the most challenging part of being a leader?
Godwin: Two things come to mind:
Continuously providing constructive feedback as well as praise, so both your best performers and your lowest performers all get better.
Shielding your employees from negative influences in the broader environment. Just as I do being a parent, I try to shield my children from negative and harmful influences in the world. So, too, I do with my employees. This is not entirely possible with children or with employees.
What is the most rewarding part of being a leader?
Godwin: Seeing people you have mentored succeed. Several of the folks I hired early in my career are now in very senior positions throughout the government, as CIOs and other Senior Executive Service positions. But, just seeing anyone who works for me succeed on a project, be recognized by an award, be promoted or who take on more responsibility and have more impact, is what keeps me going.
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, 6 a.m.-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere.
Tom also writes a weekly commentary. Subscribe to Federal Drive's daily audio interviews on iTunes or PodcastOne