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#105 Information-driven Leadership Part 2

on Mon Sep 12 2022 17:00:00 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)

with Darren W Pulsipher, Betsy Freeman,

Keywords: #change #people #changeagent #radiusag #organizationalchange #informationdriven #leadership

Darren Pulsipher, Chief Solutions Architect, Public Sector, Intel continues his talk with Betsy Freeman, CEO of Radius Advisory Group, about her experience as an information-driven leader in the public and private sectors. Part two of two.

Although Betsy is the CEO of Radius Advisory Group and technically retired from the federal space, she still keeps one foot in the public sector through her company which focuses on cybersecurity and cyberspace issues of national importance. Working in both the private and public sectors at the same time has been the most exciting part of her professional journey.

Betty started out as an active-duty service member in the Air Force, switching to the industry while juggling kids and a spouse who was also on active duty. She’s worked in several industries, most recently utilities and energy, and spent a great deal of time at PricewaterhouseCoopers. She returned to the Department of Defense (DOD) when she was selected to work with Secretary Gates as a member of the Defense Efficiencies Task Force. She stayed on under Secretary Pancetta and had an exciting journey, ultimately being appointed as Deputy CIO for Business Process and Systems Review. There, she created a data analytics function to provide more transparency on Information Technology costs and potential efficiencies across the DoD.

Betsy’s biggest challenge in the role of Deputy CIO, which she thinks is true across the public and private sector, is how to bring new thinking, processes, technologies, and methods of working into the organization. In large organizations, the scope is enormous, and there are many silos, each with its own culture, agendas, budgets, and P&Ls. Situations such as the COVID pandemic, where changes need to happen quickly, are incredibly challenging.

Betsy says that COVID changed the culture in some ways, but in other ways, it caused people to hunker down even more, which is not good. There were many process and technology challenges that everyone learned from and continues to do so. One worry Betsy has is that there is now a new environment and ecosystem, and the return to the office can’t be stuffed back into the old bag as many leaders are trying to do. Although this is very difficult to navigate, and whether leaders consider the new environment good or bad, it can’t be treated the same as before.

Once leaders make a shift, however, Betsy’s strategy is to sprint everything. She learned this lesson when she was Deputy CIO and was given various projects on top of the underlying mission. She noticed that other teams were repeatedly given 30 days for projects, but her team was given only 10 days. When she inquired, the leadership said they knew her team could accomplish it in 10 days and that they had to make complex decisions that required the information her team could provide as part of the decision-making process, so the faster they could get it, the better. So she told her team that they just had to figure it out. They did, and they got good at it.

A sense of urgency helps people focus and perform, but leaders, Betsy points out, must ensure that they are equipped with the people, resources, and authority to execute something on a short timeline. This leadership support is key to success.

Betsy believes listening to people is essential, but decisions get made at the top, which should generally mean a few people. A matrix organization, which gained popularity in the 90s and 2000s, added layers of complexity, but most situations are already complex, so it still comes down to leadership. Leaders must be inclusive enough to listen to as many people as possible, but it can’t take five months and 150 meetings. They must develop systems and groups that can do ideation, suggest models, and work with each other. Leaders have to have the ability to turn and burn; sometimes, they must act quickly. Often, the answer is fewer people but the right people, less technology, and the right technology to get what you need.

Betsy used an effective model when she received urgent projects from the Deputy Secretary of Defense to create small teams of five to seven people with diverse cognitive skills from among her 50 analysts. This was successful because she knew her analysts’ personalities and skills well and could cherry-pick teams rather than taking a problem to a huge group and trying to get everyone’s input. The small teams repeatedly surprised her by accomplishing complex tasks and solving problems.

By setting up processes and templates to solve problems, Betsy’s team often provided input to the Deputy Secretary of Defense or the CIO within hours if necessary. Ultimately, they had processes in place that enabled them to do the ideation to come up with neutral, data-based options based on many considerations. This allowed the leaders to look at the facts and evidence and make decisions.

Betsy had faith in her teams and never told them how to do the work or assumed she knew the best way to approach things. She had good people and just trusted them to do it, This motivated her people, and they would be constantly anxious for new assignments. Employees want to know that leaders listen to them and consider and use their ideas. This approach allowed people to tell her their best analysis and options. It was often a combination of those analyses that made it back to the leadership. Credit goes to the leadership in the DOD and the CIO’s office, which trusted Betsy’s process.

Every time there was a new problem, Betsy assigned a new team. That way, different people could work on different types of projects and not get pigeonholed into one area, and people could work across the generational divide. Sometimes people were initially resistant to working with age groups outside their own, but in the end, they learned to see things through different, beneficial lenses.

Since Betsy and her deputy got to know their people well, she could work quickly to put effective teams together. One hallmark of her success is that whenever she asked a team to work on two things, no one ever said no. They just did it.

Click here for the first half of Darren’s discussion with Betsy Freeman.

Podcast Transcript


Hello, thisis Darren Pulsipher, chief solutionarchitect of public sector at Intel.

And welcome to Embracing

Digital Transformation,where we investigate effective change,leveragingpeople, process and technology.

On today's episode, Information

Driven Leadership Parttwo with Betsy Freeman.

Tell me, tell me some of the thingsthat didn't work out for youor that you went down one route.

You go, wow, that wasthat didn't quite work out.

Did you have any experience like that?

I had a lot of that.

And and I will tell you,my my leadership experienceis that I'm still in the learning mode.

I think I unfortunately,

I don't think I'll ever mature enough.

I'll be in the learning mode for forever.

I'll give credit to being ableto survive the mistakes.

And there were manybecause we had no guardrails,we just kind of put two bumpers in placeand we started driving the cardown the highwayat a very high rate of speed.

And we dropped awe dropped a Porsche engineinto a VW body.


So we were we were not at allwhere we thought we would bewhen we started this.

But the credit goes really to my team whowho did a lot of work and learned with meabout taking hits when you were wrong.

I went in with the premisethat if we failedat something, it wasn't going to bethe end of what we were going to do.

And people were, of course,very worried about that.


And so we kind of hadthis instant reaction when we started out,geez, I don't want to tell herif we couldn't get itor if we did it wrong,and now we've got to go back and do it.

And we can't make the ten days.

And so they just didn't want to.

So I just kind of got rid of that.

Darren And I got rid of it because notbecause I had some great leadership skill,but because the environmentin which I was inwhich my leadership allowed us to beand allowed us to rest, they enabled that.

I got myselfchewed out by some very high level peopleat the Pentagonon the evening and oftentimesin front of of my my entire team,

I used to take my entire team inwhoever was on an analyst groupto do a particular problem.

We went into briefing to the CIO beforeit went to the deputy secretaryor the secretary,and it always madeeverybody in the front office very madbecause I took 35 people in there.

Right, because I put everybodythat did anything, any support,any whatever,and not just the core team, right?

Because we were all involvedin all of the work.

It's all success or failureand we're all in it together.

And but they would see meget chewed out badlyknowing how much we did.

And what I figured outvery quickly is I couldn't blink.

I just took it and said, You're right,we should have done it this way.

I didn't offer an excuse.

I didn't defend myself.

I just took it and said, You know what?

We didn't get it right.

We'll go back and we will get it right.

And we'd go backand they'd all be apologizing.

And I'd say,

No, you didn't do anything wrong.

We just missed the mark,so let's just keep going.

And they're like,

Okay, so we just went back at itand then we learned something even better.

And so Betsy, that's an incredible lessonthat you taughtyour staff that brilliant.


Because a lot of times when you go inand you get railed,then you have to come back inthrough your own filters, figure outhow you're going to communicateto the team that we missed the mark.

Instead, they got to heardirectly from the customer.

That's right.

And again, to credit the leadership there,

I had the agreement with the CIOand the principal deputythat if we ever did screw something up,which,like I said,we did on on a number of occasions,that if they were going toif they were going to correct me there,

I didn't I didn't care thatthey corrected me in front of the team,but I wanted them to correct meas the leader and not the team.

And to the creditof both of those leaders,they made a point of just chewingthe living daylights out of me.

And then in the next breath,they would say, and team,you did every thingyou were supposed to do.

Here we see the level of analysis.

We see the level of this, whatever. Right.

And so it didn't

I was worried the first time that happenedit was going to be about the leadersfailure.

It wasn't.

The team saw it and they internalizedand they went, if she failed, we failed.


And I said, well, you know,so we fell together.

We went togetherand we just kind of went on.

It just went, What.

Are you going to write a book? Betsy?

You need to write a book about this stuff.

Yeah, I seriously, I've never met a leaderthat ever did that.

Like I say, it was only because

I was in an environmentwith leaders above methat allowed me to do that, allowed.

It to happen.

I think it's

I think it's a brilliant techniquebecause theyyour team gets to see you as the leader.

I am responsible. Right?

If we didn't hit it as a team,that's my fault.

Well, it is ultimately.

No, ultimately.

And ultimately,you're the one that's accountable.

I think it goes back to the thread

I keep coming back to.

And that's the thing on leadershipbecause at the end of the day,if you're not down in it enough to knowand I get it, you know,organizations are big and they're complexand I only had a team of 50 people there.

But at the end of the day,the outreach that we did from there acrossall of the Department of Defense,it there has to besome ability to take yourselfand put yourself into wherepeople are thinking through those issuesif you want to understand themas the leader.

And it does make you accessible,you have to be accessible.

You have to be accountableand responsible.

And they have to see you be accountable.


Because if you want themto be accountable, responsible,they got to see you do it.


And if you do it,if they don't see you do it,they have no incentiveand no reason to do it themselves.

They really don't in my personal things.

That that that's pretty,pretty incredible.

All right. That's it.

Let's shift gears a little bit.

Tell me aboutone of your biggest successesthat you just went.

Maybe that was awesome.

You know what I mean?

Something just went so well that you werethat you sit back and you go,the team was firing on all cylinders.

We knocked it out of the park.

We made a huge difference.

What made it happenand how did that happen for you?

So let's see.

I don't want to get I don't wantto get too lengthy here on you, but

I think the last question you gave meis related to this question.

What were the thingsthat were the toughest? Right.

Because we had a lot of places wherewe tried to do things that it didn't work.

People didn't want to work with us.

We didn't have enough datato actually do a good analysis.

We didn't have the right peopleand we had to get it figured out right.

All of those things come into play.

The flip side of that coin is, is,is just is just those same thingswhere we had all of the right thingsto put some things together.

And I guess the thingthat stands out in my head maybethe biggest actually Russ says thethe earlydevelopment of what nowthe department is usingto audit their financials for Congress.

We were in a subcommittee meetingto a committeethat we'd been appointed to,and on that particular occasion,

I took my deputy and one of the analystswith me because they wanted to hearwhat was going on in the meetings.

And we were doing some review across thethe at the top of the,the OSD, the Office of Secretary Defenseand the the major undersecretariesareas there to find some efficienciesand look at the accuracy of some databecause we needed to find some moneythat we didn't have.

And we knew that it'sthere's it's hidden in there, right?

It's wasted.

It's duplicative, duplicative, whatever.

And we had been in this this,you know, series of meetingsfor like four months.

And I took these guys on this occasionand we finally kind ofgot down to brass tackswhere the senior leader in the controllersaid, you know, we just have to havesomebody that can do this analysisand we're just not getting there.

You know,we're not coming to where we need to be.

And I saw my deputy's eyesjust get really big and you kind ofgave me this, don't do it. Look right.

And, you know, I knew looking around thetable that we could do it.

And so

I stuck my footin it, much to his chagrin, and just said,you know what, just let uslet us take a crack at this right.

And so the CEOs office was the last placeyou would go for that kind of support.

But we did it.

We took what we thoughtwas going to be anotherfour or five weeks, and we turned itinto actually another four or five months.

But we came up witha very large data analysis capabilitywhich help people to understandthat when you collectdata, you'll know this in the business,that you're in,and everybodythat deals with data gets this.

If you're if you're collecting datafrom many diverse sources, right.

It everybody says they'rethey're measuring apples and oranges,but actually, it's it comes back as applesand pineapples and pomegranates.

And you may have a couple of monkeysand a few dogs in there.


And everybodysays, here's here's our personnel numbers.

But because they're all, youknow, required in a different wayand the standards are different,you can't create a baselinein which you canyou can actually operate from.

So wedid a lot of work to actually do that.

We found and tested an analyticand automated capability,which is the precursorto what they're using in the DOD nowand belongs to another commercial entity.

But it was one of those things that well,when we got done,we sat back and we we said,we can't believe we did that.

And so we were very excited about it.

In the end,the a lot of the work that we did,there was a great handful of projectsthat we did the initial analysis onand said, Hey, the department's got to gokeep going with thisbecause there's more to be done.

And this can not only save money,it can save lives.

It's the right thing to dofor the department and for the nation.

And many of those ideaswent to the Defense Innovation Unitand kept and kept going and still live on.

And so for those things,we had an opportunity to see the field.

And when you deal with large organizationslike the DODor any large corporate organization,because of all the issues with,you know, resources and peopleand leadership and money and culture,you you have to make advancementsand transformation over time.

And we were just happy to have beenat the right place at the right timewith the right set of leadersthat enabled us to do a missionwhere we had some latitude.

And, you know, we we we just said, let'sjust go give it the best shot we got.

And if we get it, we get it.

And we had a lot of pushbackalong the way, but several othermilitary services still use the basisfor that analysis and what they doand how they now manage their fundingand their resources on things.

And so they can give a much more accuratepicture of whatthey're doing to their leadershipand to the Congress and everyone else.

So I think if you went backand you asked everybody therethat was a big and defining moment for usbecause wewe worked very hard on it and even weweren't sure we could do it at the start.

But wewe ended up doing something we neverknow.

You just product another interesting thingthat I see and great leadersand it's risk taking youyou could have sat on your hands that day.

And my deputy wished I had.

Yeah. But.

But you didn't because you kneweven that was risky, right?

Because it's big exposure.

You knew you can make a difference.

It is big exposure.

But again, you know,it comes back to the fact that I knew thatif I tried it and we couldn't do it,my leaders would have my back.

But what's the opposite to that, Darren?

I mean, you know, when you'rein those situations, you can sit thereand you can say, okay,then nobody can do it.

And that can never be the answer.

The answer can never be,

Hey, there's nobody that can take it on.

And it is a matter of it is a risk thing,it's a risk management thing.

And you do have to manage whatyou do when you take a risk.

But if you nevertake the risk, then how will you knowif you can ever innovate anything?

Like I said when we did it,

I have to tell you, that nightwhen I went home, I think I hadtwo glasses of wine and said, okay,now I know.

I said, we should do thisand I'm confident we can do it.

Do I know how we're going to do it or whatwe're going to do? No.

And so that was a little chilling to me.

Well, it's interesting, Betsy,because you took out you take a riskand then you went and did it.

And I like what you said here, because Idon't think you realize something.

A lot of people that were thatthat were in your shoes or would have beenin your shoes would have said, no,

I just don't think it can be done.

And you said, no, you you'rethe type of person if something's on fire,you go there to help.

You don't run away.

I can tell you look at look at allof the problems we're facing today, Daryn.

This is about this is about strategic,strategic insight.


If you don't try something,you will never know.

And we have so many difficult problemsthat if everybody says it's too hard,how do we get tothe next gen of nuclear energy?

How do we get to, you know,electric vehicles and charging stationsthat are secure for cars?


How do we get to all these other thingsif we don't try?

The reason we don't tryis because we're afraid to fail.

What I learned in that experienceis if I fail, I fail.

If you want to fire me, fire me.

There was more than once where I went inand I was so frustrated I would, you know,set my card that got me into the Pentagonand I'd lay it out on the CEO'sdesk and say, okay, I'm just done.

Okay,just just go ahead and I'm done, right?

And he'd say,

Pick that up, put it on, go home,drink another glass of wine tonightand I'll see you tomorrow morning.


And so he was very good about that.

And sobut like I say, I think you you know,my premise with the team was alwaysand they know I said two common things.

I always said is figure it out,go figure it out.

Whatever it is, go figure it out.

And the otherwas make them tell, you know.

Oh, and let's.

Make them tell. You know.

Can can you elaboratea little bit more on that?

Because I think

I know where you're headed.

They're going to want to make sureeveryone understands.

So the answer what you just brought upis that it's easier just to say no.

Yeah, right.

Yeah. Well,and that's what everybody does.

It's just. No, because it's too hard.

Well, what,what an analyst has to be able to doand a strategist has to be ableto successfully do,is to make a business case so strongabout the impact of what will happenif you succeedthat and provide all the dataand information about what's the cost,what's the timeline, what's the risk.

All of those things.

And with fact based evidence not, hey,

I'm going to gut check this, right?

So you can prove the mathand everything else.

But when you can do that,then you can take it in.

And I don't care what leaderyou put it in front of,this is why options are goodand not just recommendations.

You know, you give somebodythat's at the top of an organizationand most often you can lay out the optionsand you don't have to indicatewhat should happen because they look at itand they go, Duh,

I didn't know this rightor I didn't see this,or there's a piece of informationthat I didn't have that I wasn't aware of,and that makes a difference.

And they can make a good choice, right?

And so every time we wanted to godo something and we knew that it probablywas not going to fly on first,first blush, my advice,everybody was, you know, build thebusiness case, make them tell, you know,and if you really builda good business case and you cancommunicate it quickly and effectivelyand with the single sheet of paperleaders, public or private,have a hard time telling, you know,because it makes so much sense.

And it's within the mission, it'swithin the scope of the business.

It works for the operation.

It supports the customers.

It's secure.

Why would you not do it right?

Yeah. No, no, I hear you.

So, Betsy, this has been in credible.

Every time I talk to you,

I learn so much more so than

I do.

I'm like.

And I wish. I wish I worked for you.

I wish I had that opportunityto work for you at some time,because I would have learned so muchfrom just your justyour experienceand your your attitude towards leadership.

I think it's wonderful.

Well, I think if there is a bottom lineto leadership these days, it'sit runs through the thread of everything.

And the leader is the linchpin.

If you if you got to figure out how to hittransformation, if you got to figure outwhere you're going with technology,if you got to figure out anythingabout your organization, my challenge toeverybody is go back and reviewand redefine leadership development,because at every point inthe organization these days,it doesn't matter where you go.

I hear the challenge from leadersat every level.

We just don't have enough leaders.

They don't know how to do these things.

They aren't opento these types of suggestions.

They aren't this, thatand the other thing.

And it's because we're working with withcareer development systemsand performance management systemsand leadership developmentthat are all siloed in their own waysinstead of integrated.

And we have to start to develop leaderswho can ask the technology questionsthat we couldn't answer before.

We don't have technology leaders.

We don't have any kind of leaderthat has grown upso much in an information worldthat we're challenge with nowand learning those thingsand teaching peoplethose things about data analytics andthe use of AI and all of the other pieces.

It's not just technology, right?

Those things are essentialto how well our companieswill perform, how our securitywill perform going forward.

And so I would say if there's one lesson

I've learned is that you got to reviewand redefine how you developyour leaders don't just stuffthe new scenarios into the old bagbecause the old bag is gone.

It's not about color in outside the boxanymore because the boxes are long gone.

Yeah. It's not a box anymore, is it?

There's not a box anymore.

There's an ecosystem now and it's a lotbigger and it continues to turn.

It doesn't just sit still like the box.


Thank you so much for having me, Darren.

I really appreciate the opportunity.

I always enjoy talking with, you.

Know, this I like I said before,thanks, Betsy, for coming on.

We most definitely will haveto have you come back again.

And forthose of you that want to hear morefrom Betsy, where you can contact Patsy,she's got a consulting companyout of Michigan.

You can always visit her in Hollandbecause it's wonderful in Holland.

And now Radiusradius ag right.

Radius advisory group.

We're at that

Right. There you go. Thanks again, Betsy.

Thanks a lot, Darren.

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