By Philip Reed
In 2019, Michael Montoya was selected as senior vice president and chief information officer. In this role, he leads more than 200 technology team members managing both traditional and operational technology programs across WAPA's footprint. He serves as an advisor on information technology issues, business procedures, cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection.
Closed Circuit sat down with Montoya to learn more about him and his background.
What brought you to WAPA initially? What is your history with the organization?
After spending 24 years in the military and then deciding to retire, my wife, Patricia, and I wanted to come home to Colorado to be near family. We had kids who were very young and we wanted them to be able to know their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
I had several opportunities to stay in Washington, D.C., but I instead focused my search efforts on a technology leader position in the Colorado Springs or Denver area. I was fortunate to see an announcement for an IT supervisor at WAPA that read exactly like what I had been doing in the military.
After a couple of interviews, I was offered the position and was asked to start immediately. The Human Resources and IT departments were great and made my transition seamless. I've now been at WAPA for almost 14 years, and it's been the best career move I could have ever made.
Serving like your lights depend on it and being a student of the business are not just hollow statements. It is truly a part of the culture at WAPA.
What has been your most rewarding experience at WAPA so far?
It would be that of IT Evolution. For those who aren't aware, IT Evolution was the reorganization of all IT staff, planning and resources under the CIO.
When I arrived at WAPA in 2008, the IT department was siloed. Every region had its own regional information officer, and it was not uncommon for regions to have diverse ways of meeting similar objectives, which often created inconsistencies, inefficiencies and complexity. As an example, we had four email systems, five separate websites, five IT contractor support contracts and six data centers.
In 2015, WAPA undertook the groundbreaking effort to make IT Evolution a reality. It was not easy. What I personally find so rewarding was that I was part of the leadership team that had to change the hearts and minds of people inside and outside WAPA, convincing them that this was the right thing to do and showing them the tangible benefits.
After 18 months of difficult work, we were able to consolidate the IT budget, realign more than 225 staff and integrate many disparate processes, operations, funding mechanisms, contracts and technology systems into one organization aligned under one leader. This was a clear innovative change opportunity that vastly improved WAPA's management and operation of the IT program. In the seven years since, it has not only been a huge success, but it has also served as a model for similar WAPA efforts.
What is something most people do not know about you?
I played baseball when I was growing up and, naturally, when I had kids, I decided to get involved in coaching. I no longer do any of the head coaching since my kids are mostly grown, but I am still involved as an assistant coach. I work with many kids who want to play competitively beyond high school to help prepare them fundamentally, as well as assist with the recruiting process.
Over the years, I've had several players go on to play in college, including two of my own kids. It makes me smile inside when I see these young adults achieve their goals. I still have one daughter at home and she wants to play in college, so she is working toward that.
I'm a huge proponent of youth sports because of the skills these young athletes develop. They learn what it means to be dedicated to something bigger than they are, to be responsible and understand the value and rewards of hard work. They also learn the importance of teamwork, how to have fun, how to learn from failure and, most of all, how to challenge themselves to reach their full potential.
What are you reading right now? Do you have a favorite author?
It's not uncommon for me to pick up my tablet and read for hours about anything from sports to personal finance to technology and everything in between. I have found it interesting that, in today's technological age, information is ubiquitous and it has dramatically altered the way we consume it.
I don't know if that is a good or bad thing, but what I do know is that, for me, I rarely get my information from just books, television or newspapers. It's fair to say that technology has shortened my attention span and, if I don't like something, I just move on to the next interesting subject, topic or article.
That being said, I have read one book recently from cover to cover. It is called The Truth About Money by Ric Edelman.
What are your communication and leadership styles?
If this were a job interview, I would say that I am a situational leader. I say this because I don't think one specific leadership style can be effective for all situations so, as a leader, you must be flexible.
In my role, there are situations that allow me to delegate because the leaders below me are talented, experienced and lead their areas superbly. In these cases, I just check in periodically. I believe it builds their trust in me, allowing them to do their job without me hovering over them. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I can assert a more authoritative leadership style for situations in which I feel something is drifting or needs more direction.
Some people view the authoritative style as a bad thing. For me, I really see it more as a coaching-style of leadership. I believe there are times when new leaders or even very capable leaders need help understanding the objectives, removing obstacles or defining scope.
My communication style is more expressive and participative. I've been told that I am a storyteller. Both professionally and personally, when it comes to making decisions or understanding an issue, I like to ask a lot of questions and I feel it is important to get everyone's input before I make an informed decision. Also, I like to tell those affected the backstory of why I made a particular decision.
Information is power and when all information has been communicated appropriately, others have the power to make informed decisions. This is especially important in the IT program, because if one small change is made and it hasn't been communicated, and it causes a problem, it could have serious effects on the reliability of our operations. Those who know me are aware that I am always telling my staff that they should never be the last one holding the information; it should be communicated up, down and sideways for full transparency. Transparency is one of IT's core operating principles.
Would you tell us about your coworkers at home?
I have three coworkers at home. I have Patricia, who has been teleworking for the past two years, our dog, Bailey, and a horse named Stinker. However, I still feel like I am alone most of the time. My wife tends to start work a little later than I do, so once she gets up and gets ready, she goes into our home office, and following right behind her is Bailey. We take turns making each other lunch and we socialize a bit and then we go right back to the phone calls, video meetings, email and whatever tasks we have on our to-do lists.
Occasionally, my wife will text me, from about 25 feet away, to ask me to grab the dog and take her out. Usually those are the snowiest or coldest days. Before my workday starts and at the end of my workday, I will feed and water my daughter's horse and give him some attention. Stinker loves to run around when he sees me and then run over and rub up against me or nibble at my face. Sometimes he just stares deep into my eyes for few minutes with his ears perked. I think that's to clue me in to the fact that he's waiting for his horse treat.
During this period of maximum telework, what do you think is the most valuable lesson you've learned as a leader?
I believe telework has fundamentally changed the way we think about accomplishing work. As a leader, I have witnessed firsthand that critical work can be done successfully and with quality for many remote workers, and I don't have to have my eyes on them or be right there in the office with them to ensure this. Many staff members have proven that they can get more work done without the distractions of the commute and interruptions in the office. Plus, I sense that there is better work-life balance.
Secondly, I have learned that staff can and do become distracted or disconnected from the mission, our culture or from coworkers in other functions if they don't remain connected. Leaders must model the behaviors and set expectations that employees must remain connected beyond their normal set of coworkers so that there is collaboration across all functional areas. This is especially true for new staff members.
Lastly, I've learned that not all work can be done through telework. Granted, for most office workers this is indeed the case, but there is still some work that cannot be accomplished remotely. There are also people who may be more extroverted, and they get their energy from working around others and would prefer to be in the office.
I believe this new normal will be a combination of workers in the office, others teleworking and some on travel. The defining factor for success will be the tools we use, which will be a combination of policies, processes, technology and expectations.
Note: The author is a public affairs specialist.