The trick here is to take a long view on employee development and plan out a series of formal and informal training and development that will deliver strong CIOs in the future. My path was like that, but I developed my plan on my own without a lot of guidance or help.

  • Agency-sponsored leadership development program (9 months) in addition to my actual work
    • Chose a mentor who I still work with today
  • PMP classes and certification (9 months)
    • I have continued to maintain this certification
  • Master’s Degree (20 months)
  • Federal Acquisition Certification
    • Program and Project Management Level 3
    • Contracting Officer Representative
  • SES Candidate Development Program (16 months)
    • Included Master’s Certificate from a university
    • Included detail assignments

I accomplished a lot on my own, without a map or guideposts along the way. Hopefully, the future CIOs who are reading this will be able to accomplish a lot more and be even more prepared than I was. But in order to do that, you need to focus on writing an Individual Development Plan (IDP) and sticking with that plan.

Individual Development Plans

My IDP has proven to be a good tool for having a conversation with my supervisors. This is the conversation where I say, “I want to be a CIO someday,” and he or she works with me to identify the activities that will put me into that position. For me, the people who have supervised me and the people I have supervised I have always had the IDP conversation in conjunction with my annual and semi-annual performance review.

Do use caution when constructing your IDP. It is easy to put a bunch of classes on there. But there is a difference between taking a bunch of classes and participating in the meaningful development activities that will put you into the CIO chair. This is my opinion, and opinions are like assholes, everyone has one, but my opinion is that the development activities that I laid out at the beginning are good ones for rounding out your technical skills. I would pick two or three from this list:

  • PMP
  • Records Management
  • Six Sigma
  • FAC-P/PM, COR, C
  • ITIL

Next, I would encourage people on the CIO track to pursue a master’s degree. It doesn’t need to be as expensive as mine was, but I would strongly recommend a more traditional classroom setting over an online program. My rationale here is that there is a lot of learning that comes from working with other people in the program and understanding their perspective. Additionally, any program that is worthwhile will include a mix of individual and group assignments. Those group activities are critical because that is where you get to practice different leadership approaches and work on softer skills like influencing others. Below is a quick sampling of some of the current CIOs’ academic qualifications.

Master’s UVA

BA Ohio Wesleyan

MBA Maryland

Master’s Stony Brook

Master’s Virginia Tech

Master’s Johns Hopkins

Master’s Boston University

Bachelor’s Maryland

Bachelor’s Depauw University
Master’s from LSU and Syracuse Ph.D. Drexel UniversityMaster’s GA TechMaster’s MarylandJ.D. Boston College

Master’s University of West Florida

Master’s Tennessee State University

There is no single academic program that will guarantee the right preparation. Most programs will introduce the right concepts and help you to begin thinking and acting like an executive. You need to develop your IDP for a long-term plan that will mix certifications and academic instruction that will put you into a good position to be considered for subsequent steps.

Take advantage of all the leadership development programs that your agency offers. If there are leadership development programs for 11-14’s make it a priority to participate in those programs. If there is training for supervisors, make it a priority to get into those programs.


5 ECQs

·         Leading Change

·         Leading People

·         Results Driven

·         Business Acumen

·         Building Coalitions

Get into an SES CDP. This is one that requires a lot of preparation. You can’t just wake up on a Tuesday and decide that you are going to apply for an SES CDP. You need to have the experiences that allow you to compose winning Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs). There are 5 ECQs and you will win a spot in a CDP if you can prove to people that your experiences are better, stronger, or offer more promise than other peoples’.

You will get a spot based on writing a two-page paper on each of these five areas. The manner of the presentation must follow the format that explains the problem, identifies what you did, the results of your effort, and the outcome after the fact. If you can assemble those 10 pages and make them shine then you are into the next round.

Most agencies have a mix of interviews, which can be unnerving, and another qualification round that is called the assessment center. Let me just say that I completely loved the assessment center. It was one of the best things about the entire SES CDP experience. I can’t say any more about it, but I found it to be terrific. I’m sure that other people probably hated it. There won’t be any middle ground with that.

Most programs will involve some sort of academic education. Mine had a series of nine classes, each one lasting a week at a university. My peers in my cohort and I bonded over those classes, spread out over a 10-month period. Even though we have completed the program several years ago, we still get together monthly for conference calls to catch up with each other and share our experiences. Do invest the time and energy to form relationships with your peers in these classes. They will be the ones to whom you will turn when you have difficulties later.

Most programs will also connect you with an executive coach. I derived no utility from this experience because I didn’t know what my coach was supposed to coach me on, and she didn’t have a firm grasp of how she was supposed to help me. I suppose that some people will find value in an executive coach. But for my coach and I, we agreed that we were going to check the box and move on.

The better aspect of the SES CDP is the requirement to get a mentor.

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Demosthenes is a pseudonym for a senior Federal IT official.