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Five leadership maxims for today’s cybersecurity leaders

Five leadership maxims for today’s cybersecurity leaders

Enterprise SecurityInsightsTop Stories

Curating a highly skilled, capable and resilient workforce is the key to success when leading a team. M.K. Palmore, VP, Field Chief Security Officer for Palo Alto Networks, discusses five ways to become a strong leader of today.

Leadership is at the centre of every success and failure in business. At a time of crisis, the critical strengths of leaders, like compassion and agility, are pushed front and centre. Some organisations will thrive while others will struggle with the challenges that change brings, and much of it is based on the choices and actions of leaders.

It’s stating the obvious that every organisation needs strong leaders, particularly when the going gets tough. It’s important to keep developing your own skills as a leader, as well as cultivating the next generation of leaders from the pool of talent available.

So, where to look for leadership material?

In cybersecurity, it’s not unusual for technologists to lead teams. I have been lucky to work for technologists that not only have a good perspective on leadership, but can practice what they preach.

However, the more shared stereotype is that technologists understand technology but not people. The common thought is that they tend to be technically proficient but lack the social and emotional skills required for effective leadership, which presents a challenge in cybersecurity.

As an industry that requires specific knowledge and deep expertise, technologists are the obvious choice when it comes to leadership. For non-technologists, cybersecurity might seem intimidating and they can feel overrun by the complexity of constant technological advances.

But here’s the funny thing about leadership, if you give me a skilled leader I could put them in charge of almost any situation and the outcome would likely be promising. A skilled leader knows how to motivate a team, inspire people, solve problems, delegate tasks and be the captain of the ship providing confidence and fostering a sense of community.

With that being said, domain-specific expertise is still important. In leading people with technical skills, they need to know that you have an understanding of the concepts before they will accept your vision and approach. In addition to evolving your leadership capabilities, you must dedicate attention to refining your technical skills.

Leaders aren’t simply created already fully formed. They are forged through deep experience and have two overruling characteristics: they are consistently self-aware, and always looking to improve their ability to lead well.

For technologists looking to become stronger leaders, or non-technologists seeking to lead better in cybersecurity, here are the five widely applicable principles that have guided me. It’s important to keep these in mind when you are handed a group of high-performers waiting to be led.

1. Training and development: Upskill your workforce

The cybersecurity industry will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Keeping your workforce trained on current and cutting-edge technologies and developments will ensure the readiness of your team and the individuals who might be ready to take on a wide variety of challenges outside of your team.

2. Trust and respect: Bringing your team into the fold

Extraordinary talent is easily recognised by strong leaders. These individuals are normally highly regarded by others and quickly prove their value to the team. Once these professionals are identified, you can share your overarching strategy and vision with them and then let them run with it. These individuals rarely need intervention and direction. Once imbued with the strategic vision of the leader, they typically forge ahead and in return, bring a lot of value to the team.

Leaders can get hung up on legacy methods, but they shouldn’t. The worst thing you can do is impose your methods on someone else. You’ve achieved some level of success because your prior leaders trusted you to do what was needed to succeed. More often than not, you did just that. Don’t attempt to corral and stifle your employees. They are talented and capable. Their success will bring light and often a different perspective to the team’s vision.

3. Perspective: Diversify your team

Diversity and inclusion is a hot topic. There has been countless studies and observations floating around about the lack of diversity in the technology and cybersecurity fields. How many times have we seen sensationalised headlines of diversity hires only to see them leave an organisation after a year or two following a very public hire. We need to do better and simply get this right to instil long-term change.

There’s a saying in business circles: that which gets measured gets done. It’s time to apply this mantra to the hiring of a diverse workforce. The evolving intricacy of cybersecurity demands that we create a workforce highly skilled, capable and ready to tackle future challenges. A diverse team means you’ll have diverse ideas and approaches to tackling the wide swathe of both present and future challenges.

4. Communication: Engage with your team on a regular basis

Communication has always served as the lifeblood of team connectivity. Now more than ever, staying in touch with people and simply being available is really the most important thing you can be doing. It shouldn’t take a crisis to increase the amount of communication we do with our teams. If you are not speaking to your teams on a weekly or bi-weekly basis in the current environment, then you are not engaging enough and likely not in touch.

5. Professional growth: Prepare your team for your eventual departure

One of the principles drilled into me early on was that one of the best things you can do shortly after your arrival is to begin preparing your team for your eventual departure. It’s counter-intuitive but serves your team in the best way possible by taking on the multi-disciplinary role of both leader and teacher. It can be done, especially as you begin to see members of your team clearly show their potential for future leadership opportunities.

While these five principles will not cover all of your bases, they are a great place to start. Being a student of leadership means constantly sharpening your tools. What are you waiting for? Go out into the world and become a stronger leader!

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