Cybersecurity Is Changing The Way Leaders Behave


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Forbes, Jeff Boss

The biggest threat that leaders — and specifically, CEOs — face isn’t brand positioning, fighting the talent war or reporting higher earnings. Those are all important, yes, but the increasing threat of cybersecurity is changing how companies—and the leaders who lead them — stay competitive.

Just think of all the consumer trust that’s lost after a data breach. Trust is the one thing that doesn’t bounce back the next day. It takes months and even years to rebuild lost trust — if it’s rebuilt at all.

The new worry for CEOs is cybersecurity, and worried they should be. According to one WSJ article, “The number of U.S. data breaches jumped to a record 791 in the first six months of 2017…That is a 29% jump from the same period last year.”  As the organizational leader, a CEO is responsible for everything under the sun that happens under his or her watch. It’s one of the perks of leadership.

Prepare Right To Respond Right

I learned a number of things in the military — leadership lessons that directly translate to any industry. One of the most important lessons, however, was that  when crisis strikes, you don’t rise to the occasion; you fall to the level of your training .

There are a number of ways you can prepare your team (and even your company) for chaos. Here are three:


I love questions (and it’s not just the leadership coach in me saying that). Questions excavate. They unearth hidden agendas, assumptions, personal beliefs. They reveal aspirations and motivations. They build understanding and connection. Questions are powerful, but only to the extent that they’re used powerfully. What I mean is, questions can come across as accusatorial or condescending if asked in the wrong tone or at the wrong time. However, they’re great for teaching and for understanding. When it comes to preparation and training, questions can be employed in a number of ways, ranging from red teaming to devil’s advocate and dialectical inquiry. Here’s a quick rundown of each:

• Red teaming: Think of red teaming as wargaming, where you view the situation from a competitor’s perspective and try to expose vulnerabilities.

• Devil’s advocate: Arguing an opposing or alternative viewpoint

• Dialectical inquiry: If devil’s advocate is arguing from opposite ends of the spectrum, dialectical inquiry is arguing the same end but on another spectrum altogether. For instance, if John wants to launch an Initiative XYZ by the end of year, Mary might argue for the launch of Initiative ABC at the same time (dialectical inquiry), whereas Bob might play devil’s advocate by asking “what if [this happens] to Initiative XYZ?” at the time of launch.

Beware of the first report

First reports are often wrong--not all the time, but often. The temptation to move, to take action, can be immediate, as is the knee-jerk reaction to judge . Don’t do it. Exercise the patience and the awareness not to make a rash decision but instead wait for a clearer picture to emerge. Be sure you have clear decision boundaries that outline:

• The type of decision to be made (is it a decision or a recommendation?)

• A “no later than date” for when that decision must be made by

• People that must be involved in the decision

• People that should be involved in the decision

• Risks, assumptions, alternative courses of action

• How the decision will be communicated

At the same time, don't take too long to decide either. Realize that you'll never have all the information you need to make the "perfect" decision because "perfect" doesn't exist . Analysis paralysis is a very real threat to one's competitive advantage . Just look at Blockbuster or Firestone. The problem these companies faced wasn't a failure to move but taking too long to decide how to move appropriately.

Get feedback

The first step to improvement in anything is becoming aware that “it” needs to be improved. When it comes to providing feedback, there should be clear metrics or success criteria, because, without them, there’s nothing to provide feedback on. Identify your benchmarks and have a communication process that shares what works, what doesn’t and why.

The greatest lessons to be learned from preparation center around risk, decision making and information flow. Namely, you see the risks associated with each decision and the decision-making process used to navigate those risks. You also unearth the team dynamics that people like to avoid because they’re difficult conversations to have, but not having them impacts communication, decision-making and alignment — all critical ingredients to responding “right.”