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History of USGS Leadership Program

Vision — To create a leadership-centered culture throughout the USGS that emphasizes the importance of people in the USGS to ensure high-quality science for the benefit of society.

What is a leadership-centered culture?

USGS core principles establish a foundation for behaviors that foster a high performance environment. Employees:

  1. Take risks to achieve results;
  2. Treat each other with dignity;
  3. Value differences; and
  4. Take responsibility for their actions so the employees and the organization can develop to their full potential.


The expected outcomes of a leadership-centered culture are to:

  • Create a high-performance work environment.
  • Increase productivity.
  • Attract and retain high quality employees.
  • Be proactive.
  • Energize people.
  • Share vision, share values.
  • Integrate sciences/disciplines for greater awareness and approaches to problem solving.
  • Unleash the talents of employees by promoting responsible risk taking.


Expected core leadership competencies at the USGS are:


Guiding Principles for all employees

  • Be respectful
  • Be accountable
  • Communicate
  • Value differences
  • Encourage
  • Focus
  • Collaborate



  • To create a magnetic field at USGS that attracts, retains, and develops talent.
  • To build a web of connectivity for rapid transfer of scientific information and learning across disciplines for powerful and meaningful social benefits.


In our Strategic Plan we have a goal that "The USGS will have visionary leaders and innovative managers." In response to that goal, the bureau established a USGS Leadership Program in 1999, with the initial target audience being GS 12/13's across the bureau. The initial step has been expanded to include GS 14/15's. The content of those two courses and their follow-up, at the present time, are identical. These components are just the beginning of a much more inclusive and expansive leadership development program. In thinking about a bureau-wide leadership development program, a statement by John Kotter comes to mind, "Institutionalizing a leadership-centered culture is the ultimate act of leadership." A leadership program for only those at the higher GS levels is insufficient if we truly hope to establish and promote a leadership-centered culture. The current vision for the Leadership Program states: "Develop a leadership-centered culture throughout the U.S. Geological Survey that emphasizes the importance of people in the USGS to ensure high-quality science for the benefit of society."

  • First Leadership 101 class in June 1999; first Leadership 201 class in September 2000.
  • Guidance received from the Leadership Steering Team, which is made up of four members of the ELT, a Regional Executive, and the Leadership Program Manager.
    • The Steering Team goals are:
      1. Provide strategic guidance to the Design Team.
      2. Represent Design Team's work to ELT.
      3. Provide support (recommendations, information, funding).
      4. Review strategies and provide approval at critical points.
  • The Design Team for the Leadership Program consists of 11 employees representing various disciplines within the USGS.
    • The Steering Team goals are:
      1. Design a program (both internal and external components—tools, assignments) that ultimately touches all 10,000 employees, contributes to a leadership-centered culture, has a high likelihood of success, and is affordable.


USGS Leadership Program Philosophy

The philosophy underlying USGS leadership development is simple-leadership is a core value of the USGS, is everyone's responsibility, and must exist at all levels in the organization. We will concentrate our leadership development efforts on the wholehearted nature of leadership. Leadership development will be dedicated to building a 'high-speed, broad-band connection' between heart and head so that neither leadership nor management exists in the absence of the other. We simply need to be clear about what constitutes leadership and how it differs from, but can be related to, management—both concepts are important. Our program will focus on all four chambers of the leadership heart-competency (both intellectual and interpersonal), integrity, passion, and intimacy. A good leader is a good follower; we will emphasize servant leadership. We will also stress that true leadership is the active involvement in the lives of others and that true, heart-centered leadership demands each of us to be a model of behavior for those around us.


Guiding Principles:

  • The USGS Leadership Program will be built around desired leadership behaviors and competencies.
  • Our internal program will emphasis the competencies of knowledge, communication skills, teambuilding/teamwork, personal development, problem solving/critical thinking, strategic thinking and direction setting, customer service, and business management. Included in these competencies are: integrity, ethics (both personal and scientific), vision, personal responsibility for actions, and dedication to serving others.
  • The desired behaviors for all USGS employees are: be respectful; be accountable; communicate; value differences; encourage; focus; and collaborate.
  • Our program will include curriculum, assignments, internal and external courses, seminars, web-based tools, reading, on-site training, and other tools. Internal courses will be developed only when content needed cannot be developed by external courses.
  • We will develop our program in a deliberate fashion, insuring that we implement a new component once we are reasonably assured it is scoped and on target.
  • We will provide the financial resources needed for a successful program.
  • The core of our training staff for the internally conducted leadership courses will be highly skilled USGS officials.
  • We will build off the strengths of the existing classes for GS 12/13's and GS 14/15's.
  • Individuals at these grade levels play a critical part in the development of a leadership-centered culture, including teaching leadership to those in lower-level positions. We will also concentrate in our early stages on exposing as many managers as possible to the leadership concepts underlying their management duties, then move as quickly as we can to eventually touch everyone in the bureau.
  • We will provide quality instruction, experiences, and opportunities-as well as performance support mechanisms so that all will learn to model leadership behavior that comes from the heart.
  • Individuals will begin their exposure to the concepts of leadership during their new employee orientation. Those concepts will be reinforced on a regular basis.
  • Exposure to leadership concepts will come in a variety of ways, with much of it coming by way of modeled behavior of colleagues and supervisors.
  • We will provide opportunities to encourage continuous learning in leadership.
  • The Leadership Program will be integrated with the Management Development Program, and closely linked to our mentoring, rewards, workforce planning, and other human resources programs. As such, our Management Development program will include a foundation of leadership principles for management-based actions.
  • Leadership behavior will be rewarded because it directly supports our mission and desired leadership culture.


Plans for Future Programs

Develop a more extensive leadership website which can:

  • Provide leadership training for our management corps.
  • Develop and deliver leadership opportunities for all employees (may include training, web-based information, awareness, orientation, role modeling, details, reading, etc.).
  • Link to workforce planning by supporting succession plans for leaders and managers.
  • Develop training modules that can be delivered to USGS offices anywhere in the country or via the web.
  • Provide opportunities to encourage continuous learning in leadership.
  • Develop a more extensive leadership website which can be:
    • Used by all employees as a tool to develop their leadership skills and behaviors independently and with co-workers.
    • Used by supervisors as a resource to help develop these qualities within their office, as well as a dialogue tool between the supervisor and individual employees.
  • Leadership links to look for in the future:
    • Message Board—book suggestions on certain topics/book discussions with other interested employees,
    • Book Discussion Groups,
    • Book Reviews,
    • Continuum of Developmental Courses and Developmental Assignments,
    • Personal Self-Assessment Tool and 360-degree Review,
    • Learning Curriculum Catalog,
    • And more.


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