Why a Service to America Medals winner decided to participate in the Excellence in Government Fellows program
Omar Pérez Aybar is a special agent for the Department of Health and Human Services who worked on a team that led Medicare fraud investigations in South Florida. As a result of his leadership, the team achieved nearly 700 convictions and the recovery of hundreds of millions of dollars.
In 2014, Pérez Aybar received the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals Homeland Security and Law Enforcement award for his work.
Yet four years later, Pérez Aybar enrolled in the Excellence in Government Fellows program, a leadership development opportunity for GS-14 to GS-15 federal employees. So why would a federal employee who was already recognized as an outstanding leader feel the need to receive additional leadership training?
We recently spoke with Pérez Aybar about how he believes the program will help him reach his leadership goals.
Partnership: In 2014, you won a Sammies award in recognition of your accomplishments as a leader. Why did you want to participate in EIG?
Pérez Aybar: It was humbling to win a Sammies for exhibiting some technical leadership attributes. Knowing there are levels to the ever-evolving art of leadership, I have been seeking ways to increase my leadership capability. Since I would like to reach the Senior Executive Service, I began looking at my agency’s performance expectations for SES members. I researched what the EIG program offered and realized they aligned nicely with the expectations.
Partnership: What skills are you hoping to develop in EIG?
Pérez Aybar: Managing change, or leading through change, is one skill I would like to hone. I am in health care, an industry that is always changing, especially now with electronic health records. I know there are going to be some paradigm shifts that we are going to have to address and the EIG program will help prepare me to lead my team.
Additionally, overuse of a skill can make it dull. I think EIG can act as a stone, one I can use to make certain skills sharp again. Possibly by learning to apply a previously learned skill differently.
Partnership: Why do you think leadership is so important?
Pérez Aybar: I believe you can change that which is in your immediate control, but you can influence that which is not.
Our work is physically and mentally demanding; there is usually a two- or three-month window where we grind to meet our projections. This happens year after year. Some of the agents feel a bit fatigued. The reality is we can’t change that. So, I try to express to them, “During the nine or 10 months when you’re not grinding, what do you want to focus on? Take advantage of that time to identify the areas you want to improve.”
Partnership: Practically speaking, what’s your approach to managing and supporting your employees? How do you maximize the influence you can have?
Pérez Aybar: I have a Scrabble board in my office. Employees will come in, and I’ll challenge them to a round. Through this engagement, I’m seizing an opportunity to get to know my employees—I’m building trust. It’s not always about the work. Sometimes, I’ll put out an email and say, “Hey, on this day and time, I’m going to be at Panera or wherever. Whoever wants to show up, just show up. We’re not talking work, we’re just going to talk about life.”
We say, “Mission first, people always.” How are we making good on that? I’m always looking for opportunities to challenge the status quo, to cut through the rat race. I think that becomes the vehicle for influence.