FT. MEADE, Md. –
The three women executives who lead business operations at NSA may appear like everyday citizens, but at work they are pushing the envelope and paving the way for the next generation of female leaders in the U.S. Intelligence Community. In this article, we introduce you to Kathy Zuback, Director of Business Management & Acquisition.
Feet hitting the pavement, crisp morning air, and the sound of a creek bubbling alongside the trail. If you saw Kathy Zuback running through the neighborhood, you might not guess she is responsible for business operations at the National Security Agency.
Kathy demonstrated strength and endurance as a teenager when she became all-American in five track and field events. She went on to coach at a local high school, encouraging student athletes to work hard and give it their best.
After graduating from college – the first person in her family to do so – Kathy joined NSA as a Contracting Officer intern. “When I decided to work here, I had to make a tough choice between going into signals intelligence or business. At the time, NSA was facing a perception of being too technical and not focusing enough on managing our resources. With that in mind, I chose the business route to learn how to change that perception.”
Kathy brought the confidence she gained during her athletic training to work, seeking out challenging opportunities to broaden her perspective. At one point, she was appalled by the lack of business information technology and sought to improve it by leading the effort to deliver NSA’s first automated accounting system. Over the years, Kathy rose through the ranks to become the Chief Financial Manager and is now the Director of Business at NSA.
“The more subject matter expertise I gained, the more I realized how many opportunities there were at NSA. I invested additional time and effort into my career, inside and outside of work hours.” She eventually shifted her focus from coaching athletes to coaching the next generation of business leaders.
She says new employees should build relationships with their peers, ask questions, and develop their knowledge base by seeking out diverse work experiences – vaulting over hurdles to get to the finish line – of course, a career is more like a marathon than a sprint.
When asked what hurdles she faces today she said, “We have so much work to do and there aren’t enough hours in the day.” Just then, her executive assistant popped his head into her office, interrupting the interview to ask an urgent question. She quickly jumped up from the conference table and rushed to her desk. Rifling through a stack of papers, she found the page she wanted, handed it to her assistant, and sat right back down in the interview chair. “That was ironic, wasn’t it?” she said as she took a breath and continued with the interview.
“As a leader, you can’t possibly be an expert in every subject, so you delegate.” Part of helping others to flourish means you give them the opportunity to succeed. And what if they trip up? You give them a hand up and encourage them to keep on running.