Meet Mel Hager
Regional Coordinator, Northwest/Arctic and Pacific Rim Regions, Regional Mission Support Division
Office of the Chief Readiness Support Officer
Department of Homeland Security
SFEB Associates program: 1997-1998
- What first drew you to the Seattle Federal Executive Board Associates Program?
As a graduate of the program from back in 1998, the SFEB represented the ‘cream of the crop’ in federal service. As an employee of GSA, we had senior leaders that were alumni. They were role models in the organization with high values and collaborative styles. The opportunity to compete for a slot on the Associates Program was tremendous to me. I couldn’t imagine a better way for me as a GS-11/12 to learn and grow in a safe environment.
- What was your SFEB project? What impacted your career from the SFEB Associates Program the most?
Love this as my response is going to date me! Ha! Our 2nd year project was to support the Combined Federal Campaign that was going through many changes at the time and reaching federal employees was not nearly as easy as it is today. Full disclosure, I started at GSA in 1990 before the internet. We used typewriters!
As I look back now, our first-year project was significant in that we coordinated a conference for executives to learn more about the recently passed legislation for the Government Performance and Results Act. The idea of tracking our performance still holds value today. And for a group of developing associates, many of us did not have the background in logistics to understand all that was involved. It seems like event planning and coordination is a more commonly held skill set, but for many of us and maybe mostly me, we were just fledglings, learning our way.
These projects and the basic requirements of the program provided an environment that allowed me to try out new skills and learn like a sponge from others. It was incredible to have someone who was not my supervisor work with me on my development. I received feedback that was from a unique perspective that was solely about my development. My advisor helped me coordinate a cool job shadow. I got to spend the day with the state of Washington’s Director of Tourism. The leader exposed me to all parts of her role. I was able to take all these learnings and apply them directly to my day-to-day activities at GSA. Honestly, I think it’s like financial investments, I’m gaining compound interest on those early learnings that I’m still gaining from.
- Describe a peak experience or “high point” you have had as a leader in the Federal Government a time when you felt engaged, excited and energized about your involvement.
- What was happening? What were you doing? What were others doing?
- What made it a great experience?
- What made it possible?
- How did it affect you going forward?
This may sound cliché, but every year seems to provide amazing, exciting opportunities. Whether it was standing up the Green Teams Program for GSA back in 2014 to the work I’m doing with Components within the Department of Homeland Security today, exploring potential co-locations and joint mission support spaces for operators; I would say all the work involves teams and bringing out the best in each of us as contributors and being willing to switch roles as necessary. Not always leading, sometimes facilitating, and always supporting one another. Both examples are when I felt alive, excited, and energized. It’s that feeling when you wake up and think, “Let’s go! I can’t wait to move the needle forward on influencing sustainable behaviors to how can I understand Components and translate their needs to actionable activities?”
My perception may not be reality, but I recall the teams and individuals I work alongside with being equally engaged and excited. Maybe it’s contagious or maybe we were feeding off one another. This doesn’t mean there is never conflict but having a spirit of welcoming of different opinions and input because of the shared desire for something better. I believe these types of experience build on one another because it leaves you wanting more of the same. Not the same projects or activities, but the desire to have that ‘team Zen’ feeling where you’re running on all cylinders together to achieve the desired goal.
- Without being modest, what is it that you most value about yourself as a leader or supervisor?
I would say I bring value through passion and humor. I love to work hard and have fun at the same time. I like to take on new challenges, and make a difference. I recognize my passion can be a bit much for some folks. Sometimes I become impatient, so I’m working on managing that aspect of my passion. I make mistakes, just like everyone, and it comes from a place of good intent, so a phrase I’ve heard that is my mantra now is, “Fail fast. Fail forward. Fail fruitfully.” This makes sense to me as without risk, there is no gain. We shouldn’t be afraid to put ourselves out there and support others when they do as well.
- What is the nature of your involvement empowering leaders in your workplace and community?
I have the honor to serve DHS Component executives within regions 9 and 10. I am blown away by the talent and expertise in our Department and I see passion in these leaders, they set the gold standard. Their very nature empowers others and I feel like I learn more from them than I provide in service. Today in my role as a Regional Coordinator, I find my opportunities to empower leaders is to connect the dots in terms of their desire for improvement or sharing experiences of pain points to allow us to achieve better outcomes. This work is more listening and influence versus building a program of my own. The relationships we build are critical.
- What keeps you committed to Federal Service?
With 31 years in federal service, for me it’s more than the leave and retirement benefits. It’s about the opportunity to contribute and the variety of those contributions have made these 31 years amazing thus far. I still feel like a kid inside and I’m amazed by the work I get to do every day with the most incredible people. My experience with organizations and leaders is that they’re eager for people to step up and take on new challenges. Sometimes the learning is really a stretch and it admittedly every assignment hasn’t been a positive experience. But through every phase of my career, I’m left with the sensation that it all happened for a reason.
- What are three wishes you have to enhance the health and vitality of our federal leadership community?
I feel like the genie is coming out of the bottle! My three wishes to enhance the health and vitality of our federal leadership community is for us to approach one another with positive intent; do our best everyday by honoring our commitments by doing what we say we will do; and finally lifting a hand to others no matter their station – support a leader above you, help a peer move an initiative forward, and champion those starting their careers. This way, each of us can leave federal service better than the way we found it.
- What’s next for you as a leader?
Pinch me because I can’t even believe this is real! As a graduate of the program in 1998, I now have the honor to serve as a new SFEB Associates Advisor. It’s incredibly gratifying to give back to a program that was so foundational for me in my career. Oh, and I’m going to paying close attention to these Associates, looking to learn from them as well. The current Associates I’ve interacted with thus far and the new candidates selected for 2022 are impressive with diverse backgrounds. This is going to be hard work for us all, but it’s going to be a lot of fun too!