The ninth annual Key Executive Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. featured 33 speakers from government, the private sector, and the AU School of Public Affairs, sharing insights on innovation with those new to public service.
“If there has ever been a need for strong leaders in government, it’s now,” said Director of Key Executive Leadership Programs, Patrick Malone, at the opening of the June event. "The ability to effectively serve our citizens begins and ends with you."
Speakers throughout the day highlighted ways to be creative, adaptive, and collaborative to best serve the needs of the American public. They acknowledged it can be challenging to operate an uncertain environment but said public servants can find opportunities to improve agency performance and drive change regardless of the political party in power.
In his keynote address, Sam Worthington, chief executive officer of InterAction, the largest U.S. alliance of nongovernmental international organizations, said ideas flow when leaders create safe spaces and a culture of trust. He emphasized being open to suggestions, authentic conversations, and working together for a shared purpose.
“Leadership is important, but it is what you lead toward that defines you,” said Worthington. “I encourage you to lean into your strength and find ways to act as a collective to magnify your impact.”
Connie Chang, founder of CKNC Enterprises LLC, led an inspiring workshop on the art of personal leadership and the importance of being introspective to motivate others.
“We often forget leadership starts with ourselves,” Chang said. “To get the most of those you lead, you must strive to get the most out of yourself. When you do, you will be humbled, and you will see how hard change is.”
In a breakout session on broadening participation, Zina Sutch, deputy associate director of the Outreach, Diversity, and Inclusion Center at OPM, explained that just as a diverse workforce has helped corporations attract market share, the federal government can benefit from being more inclusive and paying attention to unconscious bias. Beyond race, national origin, and gender, she said employees of different ages and from a range of family situations can bring value and new perspectives to program services.
Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief of Hatch Act Unit in the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, explained in a workshop what is and isn’t appropriate political expression in federal offices. Signs and buttons that are related to issues such as gun control or immigration are allowed, but mugs or displays showing support for current political candidates are not. The prohibitions are intended to provide safeguards against discrimination and coercion that protect civil servants as they carry out their responsibilities.
“We are seeing a lot of tension in the workplace, and this last election saw a lot of behavior spill over into the non-election season,” said Galindo-Marrone. “We try to balance First Amendment rights and the Hatch Act.”
The conference luncheon included the presentation of scholarships to AU public administration graduate students. Angelia Whitlock, an executive assistant at the American Action Network and The Congressional Leadership Fund, received the Anita F. Alpern Award. Krys Skyler, a workforce analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, was honored with the Donald G. Zauderer scholarship.
Visit SPA's website for more information about the Key Executive Leadership Program.