Cybersecurity’s Too Important to Have a Dysfunctional, Poorly Performing Team

By Renee Tarun | April 22, 2022

In the world of sports, having a team of all-time great players with a poor coach/leader rarely is successful or lives up to its full potential. The same can be said for business units like cybersecurity teams. Considering the growing sophistication and speed of the threat landscape, no organization today can tolerate having an IT security team that is dysfunctional and performing poorly.

CISOs know that there is a huge shortage of talent in the cybersecurity industry. According to a recent LinkedIn article, “There are currently some 600,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions in U.S., about 90% of them in the private sector.” This means that competition for good cybersecurity professionals is fierce and will continue to be. So, the last thing any CISO wants to see is a good employee leave their organization, because that individual is going to be frightfully hard to replace.

Sure, you can throw money at “the problem” and entice good workers to stay longer, but all business managers should know by now that most don’t leave a job because of salary. Warning! – Tired Cliché Alert #1: “Employees don’t quit jobs, they often quit managers.”

Undoubtably true. If you’re a good team player, but your coach stinks, you’re going to want engineer yourself into a new organization. The best fix for keeping or pulling together a strong, rock-solid cybersecurity team? Develop good leaders.

Thinking About Good Leadership

There are lots of signs of bad leaders. Here are a few: the manager hasn’t earned the team’s trust. The manager doesn’t value diversity of thought or different points of view. The manager doesn’t inspire. The manager isn’t flexible. The manager is not a good communicator—but often thinks they are.

Bad communicating managers often rely only on platitudes and rarely speak frankly or clearly to their team members. Warning! – Tired Cliché Alert #2: “Teamwork makes the dream work” is an easy cliché for any group leader to whipped out as a short-handed attempt to inspire their troops. Though there may be truth in the catchphrase—that basically means cooperation is the only key our success.

Besides its overuse, the “teamwork/dreamwork” statement is weak because it is missing a key element. Let’s amend the statement so that it offers some real insight and reflects back at the speaker (the team leader) who has the power to make it happen: “Good coaches create an environment for teamwork to make the dream work.”

Learning from Other Good Leaders

Speaking of good coaches, we can draw a lot of leadership guidance from Mike Krzyzewski a.k.a Coach K. At the time of writing, Krzyzewski is preparing his 12th Duke University basketball team to play as a “Final Four” team in the annual NCAA Tournament. Coach K has had a stellar career as basketball leader, coaching at Army and Duke for 46 years with his teams winning games more than 75% of the time. Duke is a five-time national champion under Coach K’s guidance, so clearly, he knows a thing or two about how to build and maintain a good squad year after year.

Coach K retires at the end of this year’s “March Madness” tournament, but apparently, he will continue to serve as an inspirational speaker to business organizations throughout the world. Below are a few compelling quotes on leadership gleaned from Coach K’s website that should help cybersecurity team leaders be better managers.

Fundamentals of a Great Team:

  • “There are five fundamental qualities that make every team great: communication, trust, collective responsibility, caring and pride. I like to think of each as a separate finger on the fist. Any one individually is important. But all of them together are unbeatable.”

To Create a Positive Team Culture and Build Trust:

  • “When you first assemble a group, it’s not a team right off the bat. It’s only a collection of individuals.”
  • “We look each other in the eye. We tell each other the truth. And we trust each other.”
  • “Every leader needs to remember that a healthy respect for authority takes time to develop. It’s like building trust. You don’t instantly have trust, it has to be earned.”
  • “In leadership, there are no words more important than trust. In any organization, trust must be developed among every member of the team if success is going to be achieved.”

How to Maintain a Healthy Culture:

  • “Don’t take your culture for granted. There needs to be a constant renewal of values....”
  • “During critical periods, a leader is not allowed to feel sorry for himself, to be down, to be angry, or to be weak. Leaders must beat back these emotions.”
  • “When a leader takes responsibility for his own actions and mistakes, he not only sets a good example, he shows a healthy respect for people on his team.”

The Importance of Communicating:

  • “Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication…Communication does not always occur naturally…Communication must be taught and practiced in order to bring everyone together as one.”
  • “Mutual commitment helps overcome the fear of failure—especially when people are part of a team sharing and achieving goals. It also sets the stage for open dialogue and honest conversation.”

How to Encourage Innovation:

  • “Erect no artificial walls that might limit potential, stifle creativity, or shackle innovation.”
  • “Encourage members of your team to take the initiative and act on their own.”

Final Thoughts From a Team Builder with Half a Century of Experience

“People want to be on a team. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be in a situation where they feel that they are doing something for the greater good.”

Cybersecurity team members are working for the organizations that pay their checks, but are inspired to keep coming back because they have good leaders and they are doing something for the greater good.