What makes a great security leader in times of crisis?
July 14, 2020
If I asked you to name a great leader and what you admired about them, it probably wouldn’t take you long to come up with a suggestion, or even several. We all look to people either directly in our lives, or throughout history, that represent the qualities that we as individuals admire—perhaps even emulate. Often, it is the people that lead through a crisis that stand out the most. Perhaps it’s because of the impact that these moments have on the way we live and how (or even whether) we move forward into the future. We identify with these leaders because they embody values that are core to us as individuals.
Without doubt, the global pandemic has shone a spotlight on leadership during times of crisis. So, what makes a good leader during a crisis and why does this matter for security leaders? And are there different values that leaders will want to draw on during a crisis that matter more?
In my role as the Women’s Council Chair for the Accenture Cybersecurity Forum (ACF), I was privileged to introduce a discussion to address those questions in early June. The virtual workshop titled "Serving as a resilient security leader through times of disruption" involved a group of women leaders from companies across the world. We talked about how COVID-19 has influenced our perspectives of leadership, how values needed from leaders may change during a crisis, and what actions security executives can take to achieve their individual potential to lead through times of crisis—now and beyond.
Drawing on a list of outstanding leaders, the group agreed that, although they come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, the values they hold are often similar.
Take Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister who has recently announced that COVID-19 is close to being eradicated from her country. Decisive and relatable, Jacinda represents a new age of authentic leaders who lead with kindness, even when making tough decisions.
Around 11,000 miles away in the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II is someone who projects wisdom, stability, and empathy. While her own son, was battling COVID-19 she used storytelling to appeal to shared values while maintaining an enduring commitment to duty.
Accenture’s own CEO, Julie Sweet is a leader who is committed to “truly human,” compassionate leadership. She has a forward-thinking mentality with decisive and calm direction for the business, especially with respect to its focus on digital acceleration.
We asked the members to pool their suggestions of great leaders that resonate with them and heard the reasons why Elie Wiesel, Mike Roman, Harriet Tubman, Gretchen Whitmer, Michelle Obama, Richard Davis and Nelson Mandela all qualified as resilient leaders—they all exemplify important values.
Should a leader apply new values to manage through a crisis? Is there a difference between a leader’s core and crisis values? The Women’s Council participants noted that many of the values leaders draw on are highly relevant in a crisis as well as the day-to-day. Yet, during a crisis there are some values that might be more relevant. So, for example, while continuous learning might be essential for security leaders all the time, demonstrating empathy and being action-oriented have even higher importance during crises. Whether it is COVID-19 or a security breach, leaders during a crisis are asked to make moment-by-moment decisions with limited and imperfect information. During these times, leaders need to engender trust by remaining honest, transparent and authentic. Also, let’s not forget that humor, even in trying times, has its place in effectively leading a team.
So how can our security leaders amplify these values in their own leadership approaches to be more resilient in disruptive times? Women’s Council members believe that four aspects are critical—calmness from those around you who can diffuse the pressures of the workplace; the courage to admit you do not have all the answers, to make risk-taking a shared experience; empathy and patience, to check in with people and ask about their physical and emotional well-being; and decisiveness, considering a range of viewpoints, then choosing a path and sticking to it.
Our Women’s Council make it clear that being a good leader does not always mean making the “right decision.” Leadership involves an ongoing process of reflection, exploration, decision, action and evaluation.
Here’s a number of steps that leaders can consider taking beyond the COVID-19 disruption to strengthen their leadership skills and be more resilient:
What do you think? I’d be happy to keep this conversation going so please share your views. In the meantime, I’m grateful to the Women’s Council for highlighting these important issues—it’s good to know we already have excellent leaders out there shaping future resilience.
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