Immigration Services head: From Havana to Washington D.C.
As the USCIS Director, you oversee a workforce of nearly 18,000 people. What methods do you use to motivate your employees?
The people in our agency are motivated. The key for a leader is to tap [into] that sense of motivation and empower people to exercise the talents that they have developed over the years, and for those who come new to it, educate them on what a privilege it is to be a part of our agency.
What is motivating about working at USCIS is the mission that we have -- to fundamentally protect the dreams of people who come to this country in the hope of a better life. [It] also is pivotally tied to the definition of our nation as a nation of immigrants, and I think people find tremendous motivation in that.
How do you stay connected with USCIS' large, distributed workforce?
That's a question, frankly, that I'm in the process of answering. I'm trying different things, and I've been very assertive in my outreach. I have traveled the country to visit offices. I think that there is no substitute for person-to-person contact. I have held what I call town-hall meetings where I'm live by video and telephone with my workforce throughout the country and take questions. The town halls are opportunities for conversation, questions and answers, expression of issues, and an opportunity to share my thoughts with my colleagues.
What are your biggest day-to-day challenges on the management front and how are you overcoming them?
I have developed far-reaching and broad goals, and it is a challenge to keep focus on those goals because the issues that arise on a day-to-day basis are very significant and can swallow one's time. Being able to maintain that focus on the future as well as ensuring that the present builds the future is a difficult balance.
The ability to delegate many of the day-to-day challenges is instrumental in keeping focus. I'm a very hands-on person, and I want to communicate to those around me [about] how I approach issues, prioritize things, the values that I bring. So when they call upon me for support and assistance and when I call upon them for the same, we come to a place where we all have a united vision for our agency.
How do you apply your knowledge and legal experience to your tenure as the USCIS Director?
I'm dealing with a subject matter and administrating a complex set of laws and my ability to understand the laws that we are tasked to administer, both their spirit and their letter, I think is made more facile by reason of my legal education and experience. I think more broadly, and I think this speaks to leadership generally.
As a lawyer, and especially as a federal prosecutor, I learned to address complex sets of facts and most importantly make decisions, sometimes quickly especially in the crucible of the courtroom. I think that skill set serves me well in the agency.
How has your background as a Cuban immigrant affected you as a leader?
I understand deeply the experience of the people who come before us. I speak therefore not just with passion but I think with standing, and I share those sensitivities with my colleagues.
July 21, 2010; 6:02 AM ET |
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