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Cybersecurity Leaders Need More EQ

We all know, or have heard a story about a subject matter expert who was promoted into a leadership position only to stumble or fail at the job.

While this is common in cybersecurity, it is usually a flawed approach.

First, cybersecurity leadership and cybersecurity technical expertise are not the same. We all know of instances where a cybersecurity subject matter expert stumbled in a leadership role. And there are just as many examples of outstanding cybersecurity leaders who possessed only moderate levels of technical expertise..

Plus, regardless of your field, the higher you advance in an organization, the less you need to be “the” technical expert.

More importantly, cybersecurity leadership that is based on technical expertise, inevitably diminishes over time. As you share your knowledge with your staff, the expertise gap between you and them diminishes.

One of two outcomes is inevitable. Either your authority diminishes; or you choose not to share your knowledge base with your staff. With the first choice, your authority weakens over time. With the second choice, your organization’s effectiveness weakens over time.

What should cybersecurity leaders based their authority on? Emotional intelligence (EQ).

As a technical leader, your EQ muscles are just as important as IQ ones. And depending on different environmental factors, such as organizational culture and role, EQ may be more important than IQ.

A great resource on the subject is Daniel Goleman’s book, “Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence”. If you’re awakening your EQ muscles, I recommend you focus on his four components:

  1. Self Awareness,
  2. Self Management,
  3. Empathy
  4. Social Skills

Self-awareness is having a deep understanding of ourselves; our emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and desires. With self-awareness, we are better able to recognize how our feelings affect not just us, but our staff and their job performance. I find self-awareness to be an incredibly valuable skill to develop and continually practice. As I have advanced through my career as a leader, seeking inputs from those I respect, and engaging in self reflection has really paid off in terms of self development and improvement.

According to Goleman, self-management is the component of emotional intelligence that frees us from being prisoners of our feelings. Leaders who are in control of their feelings and impulses, are better equipped to create an environment of trust and fairness. These environments have less politics and infighting and much higher productivity. This is also something I continually focus on. More times than I care to admit, I have been times where I haven’t been able to keep my thoughts and feelings in check, and have regretted the way I handled the situation afterwards.

Empathy is widely recognized as a critical leadership skill, for at least three reasons: the increasing use of teams; the rapid pace of globalization; and the growing need to retain talent. Empathy is a key driver of inclusion and diversity of thought. It allows us to sense and understand the viewpoints of everyone on our team. Empathy also plays a key role in the retention of talent. Golemans points out that empathy is a critical skill in effective coaching and mentoring, which has repeatedly been shown to yield better performance, increased job satisfaction, and decreased turnover.

Social skill is often confused with friendliness. But it’s more than just friendliness. As Goleman describes it, social skill is “friendliness with a purpose”. It aids in moving people in the direction you desire, whether that’s agreement on a new marketing strategy or enthusiasm about a new product. Leaders who are socially skilled tend to have large personal networks, and they have a knack for finding common ground and building rapport with all kinds of different people.

Cybersecurity leaders, me included, have a tendency to spend the majority of our time focusing on “the mission”. This is a mistake. We should be spending the majority of our time focusing on developing and supporting our people. If we do that, and do it well, they will take care of the mission.

To be effective in developing and supporting our people, we need more EQ than IQ.