In the new era of cyber defense, Ted Okada, chief technology officer (CTO) at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), stressed that IT leaders must take the right risks to lead their teams in risk management efforts.

During the AI World Government 2021 event today, Okada said that chief information officers (CIOs) and CTOs take on many challenges and stressed that “enabling at scale and defending IT simultaneously is hard, messy, and rough business.” Despite it being a tough business, Okada emphasized that strong CIO and CTO leadership is key in IT, especially when it comes to risk management.

“Risk management is leadership in the final analysis,” Okada said during the event. “May we as leaders have the courage to contest the mental models we have long built up, step into the right risks, and develop sound pathways for the teams we lead. For what they give us every day, they deserve our best effort.”

Okada took the time to offer a quote from former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, who died this morning due to complications from COVID-19. Okada paraphrased a quote from General Powell saying, “The minute your team stops bringing their problems to you is the minute you’ve stopped leading them.”

In addition to earning trust from their team, IT leadership must also master the tough task of knowing “why a tool should be used and why and when, more importantly, it should not,” Okada said.

“In other words, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, we must be like Miss Rogers, who got to know all of Fred’s moves and then do it in high heels and going backwards,” Okada said of IT leadership. “Else we become numb to increasing technical debt, leading to a moral hazard, leading to moral injury.”

“Our cyber physical systems live now in this contested environment, and it is a new era of civil defense,” Okada added. “Will we collectively stand up to that challenge?”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.