Retiring DOD deputy CIO reflects on a long career in federal service

After a career spanning almost four decades, Essye Miller, the Defense Department’s first black female principal deputy CIO is retiring. This week she joined host Aileen Black on Leaders and Legends to share her experience and wisdom about leadership.

Interview Highlights:

• After decades of public service and over a decade in the halls of the Pentagon, Aileen Black asked Miller to describe her leadership style and if she alters her approach depending on the audience.  Miller said, “Yes, I alter my style, over my career and as I got more senior positions, the job became mission focused vs. task oriented. My style is more relationship oriented. I am an introvert by nature. I like to think of myself as a pretend extrovert. I force myself to make connections with people to understand who they are. This really helps in leading people towards a mission”.

• When asked if she felt she had to alter her approach because she is a woman and a minority in the male dominated defense industry, Miller said, “ I acknowledge it but try not to focus on it. I find if someone comes to the table with a bias, I like to leave it with them. I focus on the value I bring to the table and prove them wrong if they have bias. I make it less of my issue and leave it with the person. This has worked well for me”.

• When asked if there are any valuable leadership lessons that she has learned during her four-decade career, she talked about a leadership class where she was asked to write a letter to her younger self. In the letter Miller advised her younger self to “Savor the experience. Know that it will be ok and not to be too hard on yourself. Mistakes are something you grow from”.

• When asked about leadership during a crisis she talked with pride about the accomplishments her team has been able to achieve. “It has been an amazing opportunity for IT team to come together to look for innovative ways to get the mission done,” Miller said. “The team has been resilient and focused on how to continue the mission by leveraging the technology we had.”

• Miller reinforced that our biggest mission is developing the next generation of leaders, and she encouraged the next generation to be open to opportunities and be flexible. Your career can be a “zigzag and if you are open and flexible you will pick up nuggets along the way,” she said. “Challenge yourself and step out.”

Essye B. Miller is a career member of the Senior Executive Service, and currently serves as the Principal Deputy, Department of Defense Chief Information Officer (DoD CIO). In this capacity,  Miller assists the DoD CIO as the primary advisor to the Secretary of Defense for Information Management / Information Technology (IT) and Information Assurance, as well as non-intelligence space systems, critical satellite communications, navigation, and timing programs, spectrum, and telecommunications.