5 Qualities IT Leaders, Paratroopers Share

FireHost CEO Chris Drake says years of jumping out of a plane prepared him to be a technology leader.
8 CEOs Speak: IT Projects That Matter Most
8 CEOs Speak: IT Projects That Matter Most
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Chris Drake is used to having his head in the clouds. Not only is he the founder of FireHost, a Texas-based secure cloud hosting company, but Drake served in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army as a third-generation paratrooper.

Here, Drake describes how his 64 jumps as a paratrooper prepared him for managing techies, staving off hackers, and always landing on his feet as an IT leader.

As an IT leader, are you developing these qualities in your staff?

1. Rapid-fire reflexes. The cloud hosting business requires fast decisions in the event of an outage. The same split-second decision making is also required of paratroopers when making death-defying jumps, according to Drake. He recalls a time when he accidentally landed midair on a fellow paratrooper's parachute. A phenomenon known as "stealing air," it can cause a paratrooper's chute to collapse and for the top paratrooper to free-fall to his or her death. Fortunately, Drake says, "instincts kicked in and I was off that chute within half a second. I literally hit with my feet and then started jumping as far as I could to get off that chute. And that's why I'm still here today."

[ Can you tell a promising IT leader from a potential troublemaker? See 5 Signs Of A Lousy IT Leader. ]

2. Nerves of steel. Every IT leader has felt that overwhelming feeling of panic when network traffic suddenly bottlenecks or a server goes on the fritz. Referred to as "the fog of war" in military terms, Drake says it's as common in a server room as it is on the battlefield. "It's a time when there's chaos all around you but you still have to focus on what the objective is, no matter what issues are surrounding you in a battle situation. It's the same way with hosting when you have outages and panicked individuals. To be the calm in the storm is something that I learned as a paratrooper and have transferred to the business world."

3. Leadership from a distance. Leading a highly qualified team of IT professionals needn't be any different than leading an elite cadre of paratroopers, according to Drake. "As a leader at FireHost, I hire the best people I can find and then I remove any obstacles that exist so that they can do a good job," he says. "Similarly, paratroopers are kind of a rogue unit. They're great people who, if you get rid of the obstacles, will do great things."

4. Strong communication skills. Careful planning and best practices are key to excellent communication among paratroopers. The same goes for Drake's approach to keeping the lines of communication open among FireHost's 80 employees. "We're able to read each other's minds and that's because the planning is there and our vision is extremely focused," says Drake. "When your vision is focused and you have a plan, that day-to-day communication isn't required. Similarly, when we jump out of an airplane, we already know what our next 24 hours is going to be like."

5. A sense of mission. It takes more than passively monitoring traffic and managing servers to block 200 million hack attempts, as FireHost has during its two years as a company. According to Drake, such success hinges on recognizing that you and your IT team are all that's standing between a client and a security snafu. "Being in the IT business of secure cloud hosting, we are protecting businesses and people," says Drake. "As a paratrooper, I was protecting our country. It's that kind of awesome responsibility that exists within our corporate culture. Every one of our employees understands that we are the National Guard of the Internet."

At a time when cybercrime has never been more prolific and sophisticated, budgets are being cut. In response, IT is taking a hard look using third-party services--outsourcing--to meet security challenges. Our Making The Security Outsourcing Decision report outlines the various security outsourcing options available. (Free registration required.)

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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer