Former NSA deputy director explains how to transform an organziation

Former National Security Agency deputy director William Crowell joins host Aileen Black to discuss how to lead during an organizational transformation.

William Crowell, former National Security Agency deputy director, and partner at Alsop Louie Partners, joined host Aileen Black on Leaders and Legends to discuss how to lead during an organizational transformation.

Crowell’s career was anything but a straight line. He spent several years at the NSA, where he held a series of senior positions in operations, analysis, strategic planning, finance, and research and development. He served as deputy director of Operations from 1991 to 1994, running its core signals intelligence mission. In February 1994 he was appointed by President Bill Clinton as the deputy director of NSA, and served in that post until his retirement in September 1997.

While at NSA, Crowell led the agency’s transformation from analog to digital. He oversaw the roles of over 17,000 military personnel moving back to the U.S. changing their focus to leverage the internet.

After leaving federal service, Crowell became an independent consultant specializing in information technology, security and intelligence systems. He has held several C- Suite positions over the last decades and has led companies through several acquisitions, including Broadware, ArcSight and Cylink.

Crowell said effective leaders do just that — they lead instead of simply managing their companies.

“You need to get to know your organization and who can get the mission done,” he said. “You need to create the vision, get the team to accept the vision and have engagement, work directly with your team.”

Crowell also had some advice for entrepreneurs who are starting their own companies, saying strong leadership is key when taking an idea and growing it into a strong business. It is also important, he said, to adapt quickly to changes in your market.

“In today’s world there is no excuse for not knowing what you want or should know,” Crowell said. “You can find anything to learn about on the internet. If you want you can learn it.”

He also stressed that in today’s economic climate, leaders need to run operations that are “lean and mean.” The founders, CEOs and boards, he said, need to be brutally honest with themselves to get to that step of an exit like IPO or acquisition.

Crowell also discussed concerns that the United States is losing the technology race with China. He pointed out that many had those same concerns about Japan in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“You need to look at all the factors, like aging leadership and form of government,” he said. “The US didn’t lose then and as long as we have a strong viable democracy that doesn’t pass laws that stifle innovation we will stay on top.”

Finally Crowell closed the show with some advice for the next generation of leaders. He encouraged them to “always stay involved with your organization, provide a clear vision of the mission, and be part of the workforce.”

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Leaders and Legends

Leaders and Legends

Leaders and Legends

Host Aileen Black interviews federal leaders who have left their mark on government and made a lasting imprint on the nation. Hear what goes on behind the scenes in the nation's capital and why working for the federal government is so unique. Subscribe on PodcastOne.