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Lessons from 25 years at the Treasury Department

David A. Lebryk has held numerous positions at the Department of the Treasury since 1989. In 2012, he was named the first commissioner of the Bureau of the Fiscal Service when the Financial Management Service and the Bureau of the Public Debt were consolidated. Lebryk spoke about his experiences at the Treasury with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.

Q. What drew you to public service?

Credit: Lara Carter, Bureau of the Fiscal Service Commissioner David Lebryk talks to Treasury Assistant Secretary Richard Gregg during a staff meeting. (Courtesy of U.S. Treasury)

A. I come from a family of teachers, so it was very much instilled in me at a young age the importance of education and public service. I also saw the opportunity to make a real difference and to do meaningful work. I haven’t been disappointed.

Q. What is it like working at the Treasury?

A. The Treasury is a fortunate organization, because it attracts not only strong civil servants but also strong political appointees. Early in my career, I was often struck with the leadership’s ability to make decisions that transcended politics. I have worked under both Republican and Democratic secretaries, and uniformly they have been outstanding in their ability to set aside politics and really try to do what is best for the American people. It is always great to see people, both career civil servants and political appointees, who are truly committed to public service and to doing the right thing regardless of political party.

Q. Combining two Treasury bureaus was a huge task. How did you approach this endeavor?

A. When you’re doing something transformational like bringing two bureaus together, it’s not likely you’re going to win a popularity contest. In that process, we engaged the workforce in the development of the mission and the vision. Recently, we sat down with our senior executive team and discussed the values that were most important to us, and then we did a similar exercise with the workforce as a whole. We also had a plan that showed why things were being done.

We want an organization of experts, and this year we will spend a lot of time investing in our people. We guarantee every employee 40 hours of training so they have the skills to be successful, and we have a credential plan for employees to be certified experts in their fields. Despite all the change, we want to make sure our people understand that we are committed to their growth and development and that there is a very positive future for them in the bureau.

Q. What kind of culture are you trying to foster in the Bureau of the Fiscal Service?

A. We want to create an environment that brings out the best in people. We are trying to make sure that our employees have a strong sense of mission, that they see what we do as important and know that what we do makes a difference. We want a culture that’s in the pursuit of excellence. That is excellence in our daily operations, excellence in our people and excellence for the people we serve.

Q. What do you see as key elements of leadership?

A. As a leader, you have to be very good at setting a strategic direction for the organization. You have to be focused on operational excellence, and your people and their development. When those three things come together, you end up having a very well led, successful organization.

Q. What leadership lessons have you learned over the years from your bosses?

A. I worked for Deputy Secretary Frank Newman, who was very good at focusing on priorities and filtering out the noise. The late John Robson, who also was a deputy secretary at Treasury, had a great sense of humor, perspective and a calm demeanor. He showed that character matters. From Secretary Robert Rubin, I learned the importance of inclusion and collaboration, elements that go a long way in an organization. Henrietta Holsman Fore, former director of the U.S. Mint, affirmed that people and workplace culture matter.

Read also:

Management lessons from inside Treasury

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Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.



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