We hear the word “Leadership” so often in our daily lives that sometimes you have to wonder whether the context in which it is used justifies the usage. Take for example any sound bite we read or hear from the news media, be it politics, sports or entertainment the word “leadership” is inescapable. Glance over the job requirements for any management position these days, the word leadership will have its honorable mention. So how does one go about becoming a leader? Several scholars have debated on this topic, many theories proposed, thousands of books published and no shortage of experts in this area. Just the word leadership is not sufficient anymore; there are several flavors to it. For example, Transactional Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Situational Leadership, Thought Leadership, Ethical Leadership, Emotional Leadership, Servant Leadership.. and the list goes on. It can almost get your head spinning.
There are a number of thought provoking leadership books out there in the market from icons like Hersey-Blanchard, Stephen Covey, John Maxwell and Kouzes-Posner. Plenty of workshops, seminars are offered on this topic by management gurus making it a very lucrative industry. Do we really need to read a book to be a leader or attend these workshops to be one? Do we need to understand these different leadership traits and its subtleties to be successful at work?
It goes without saying that being in the business continuity and security profession we all are faced with situations where we had to take up leadership roles or are placed in a position of influence where leadership is quintessential. Do we have what it takes to rise to those occasions when we are called to lead and can we succeed? Some of us rose to leadership positions because of our ability to deeply understand technology and bridging technology gaps to provide business solutions. Can this skill by itself make us good leaders? What about the human element? So what distinguishes a good leader from a poor one at work?
I want to share with you three core/fundamental concepts of leadership that one of my mentors shared with me early on in my career that has helped me over the years. By making these three core concepts part of our daily corporate lives, I believe each one of us can become true leaders in our own way!
- Put People before Profit (PPP): Having good people skills is the first tenet of being a good leader. Taking care of people, understanding their needs and being there for them automatically builds the trust factor and motivates folks to work for you or with you. Putting people first above everything else auto-magically turns an office into a productive work force that provides premier customer service or produces superior products which in turn will generate profit making you successful as a leader. There is a school of thought that calls this concept “Servant leadership”. Putting people first also means reducing the negative externalism (politics) present in any work place, so true talent can be nurtured and grown. Understanding the dynamics of a team and creating an environment for people to express and share ideas makes a huge difference in how we perform as leaders.
- Do the right thing: Sometimes doing things right may not be the right thing to do. A true leader always knows the difference between doing things right (sometimes also known as “by the books”) versus doing the right thing. It is easy for us as managers/ leaders to sometimes get carried away in doing things the right way, making sure we follow the right process, abide by the right protocols that we lose focus on doing the right thing. To stand out as a leader in our profession, we need to set an example by always doing the right thing, even if it means stepping out of our comfort zone or sometimes making an unpopular decision. This does not mean that we become mavericks or commit political suicide in our career, but to understand the political landscape and making those shrewd decisions that ultimately upholds our true values. I know it is easier said than done. I had asked my mentor once as to how to recognize those situations when I have to do the right thing versus doing it right and the answer I got was that it can be mastered only from experience. I have to admit that am still in pursuit of perfecting this art.
- Take Risk: To be a leader in our industry we need to have the courage to take risks and explore new alternatives or solutions in the work place. Business Continuity as an industry is changing every day and new threats keep coming our way. To be ahead of the game we as managers need to harness creativity of our staff and keep the cost of continuity down. By allowing our teams the freedom to explore new ideas and encourage them to step outside their comfort zone, managers can become true leaders making organizations thrive in a competitive world. As managers we often make the mistake of not deviating from the norm or “rock the boat” and get complacent in our jobs. Taking risk means that it is ok sometimes not to err on the conservative side. As managers we should take the risk of deviating from the norm and assure our teams that it is ok to make mistakes while exploring new alternatives and be there to shield them from any adverse affects.
Taking risk also means that we face tough situations head on and not avoid it or escape from it. When faced with tough situations, we often look for the easy route to escape from it, either by escalating the issue up to senior management or avoiding it being non confrontational. This is where we need to master the art of assertiveness to face the situation on hand. The option to escalate up always seems to be the easiest route but may not always be the best option. Sometimes by not dealing with the situation and taking responsibility, we lose control of the outcome. Pushing the issue to someone else’s back (passing the monkey), is not good leadership. We need to understand that it is ok to ask for help when we don’t have all the information necessary to bring resolution to a situation, but still be responsible for the solution. Asking help is different from passing the monkey.
Like these three golden principles, I am sure we all have similar leadership concepts that has shaped us into great leaders. I would love to hear from you your experiences and other leadership concepts that have made you successful in your careers.
Shankar Swaroop, CISSP, CISM, CSSLP, PMP, ITIL(V3), OCP, is currently the director of business continuity & disaster recovery at the Navy Exchange Service Command – a retail operations within Department of Defense. He holds an MBA from University of Texas at Austin and is a CPA from India. He has more than 15 years experience in the IT industry in the areas of enterprise architecture, information security and business continuity. He is a published author and speaker with DRJ, PMI and ISACA in areas of enterprise risk management and continuity. The author would welcome questions and feedback and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org