September 4, 2023
Cybersecurity professionals are tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues. If handled improperly, cyberattacks can harm society and ruin businesses. But still, there is a larger mission at hand.
Achieving true security, at least from a leadership perspective, requires more than just technical knowledge and expertise. Industry leaders have lost a fundamental part of what makes the cybersecurity sector so important: empathy and passion for doing good in the world through their work.
Empathy Is Fundamental
When it boils down to it, cybersecurity technology is really a means to an end. That end is making customers -- and their customers -- safe. People-focused leadership in the cybersecurity industry enables individuals to view their work from the perspective of their customers. Executives in positions of power in cybersecurity understand that their work obviously is about protecting data and systems. But passion-fueled leaders also know that it’s about protecting people's lives and livelihoods.
For example, malware attacks might infect a bank's online banking platform, allowing attackers to steal login credentials or redirect transactions to their own accounts and cause devastating financial upheaval in someone’s life. When a cybersecurity company partners with a bank, it’s that company’s responsibility to make sure people’s identities aren’t stolen and their life savings and pensions are safe.
Or what about ensuring that a patient at a hospital doesn’t miss out on lifesaving care because of a network disruption or ransomware attack? An entire department’s life-saving equipment or medical device systems, including pacemakers and insulin pumps, could be vulnerable to unpatchable attacks, which are attack vectors for malware and miscreants. Allowing these to go undetected could expose the patient to catastrophic risk. Seemingly innocuous performance problems in health service provider systems could turn out to be caused by malicious ransomware or crypto mining operations, leading to large-scale outages or the degradation of the ability to deliver services. This would risk halting the provider’s entire infrastructure and jeopardize the company's sensitive business and patient-critical resources.
Recognizing the end result on a human level is key. Empathy is a fundamental part of what makes the cybersecurity industry and enterprise security teams so important. Empathetic leaders understand the impact that cyberattacks have on individuals and organizations. This, in turn, helps them to develop new solutions that are tailored to customers’ specific needs.
Technical Solutions, Real-World Consequences
Leaders in the industry are in arms races against attackers and are under intense pressure to prevent and respond to constant pernicious threats, which can make it difficult to prioritize the people impacted by breaches. Too often, the focus of the industry is on technical solutions and keeping up with the latest threats, technologies, and trends. Admittedly, it’s easy to get bogged down. The problem is that this can lead to a narrow focus on the technical aspects of the work and a lack of attention to the very real human impact of cybersecurity.
It’s also easy to perceive empathy as a soft skill that is less important than technical expertise. Yet these skills are not mutually exclusive. In such a data-rich industry, the benefits of empathy-fueled leadership can be difficult to quantify and measure. It is often easier to objectively measure technical skills and achievements, such as the number of threats prevented, or the amount of data protected. This makes mission, passion, and drive easy to overlook or undervalue.
Empathy allows leaders to understand the needs and concerns of their team members and clients, while technical expertise allows them to develop and implement effective cybersecurity strategies.
Building a Mission-Driven Team
The people-focused mindset also enables leaders to think creatively and innovatively about how to address security challenges because mission-driven leaders are not content to simply follow established procedures and protocols. Instead, they are motivated to find new and better ways to protect their customers' data and systems.
But research found that89% of employees agree that empathy also leads to better leadership. This, in turn, creates a culture of innovation, collaboration, and continuous improvement that attracts and retains top talent. More research found that61% of employees felt more innovative compared to only 13% of those without empathic leadership. When leaders are passionate about the impact of their work, it inspires their employees to be passionate and mission driven as well.
It also helps to establish a powerful reputation for the organization, which can lead to increased business and growth opportunities.
With cyberattacks becoming more frequent and sophisticated, it is crucial to have effective cybersecurity measures in place to protect sensitive data and prevent potential breaches. However, achieving this requires more than just technical knowledge and expertise. It also requires mission-driven leadership that is motivated by a desire to make a difference and do good in the world. But the onus is on cybersecurity leaders to make a human-focused and mission-driven approach a reality. It might just be the best way to move the industry forward.
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