As the CEO of Alta Associates, the leading executive search firm in cybersecurity, I have been building cybersecurity teams and advising CISOs on their careers since 1994. Although much has changed in the profession, the following advice has stood the test of time.
Whether you are a prominent CISO or aspire to be one, here’s three questions that should always be foremost in your mind to ensure your career success and your related personal happiness.
The first is – Am I positioned for success?
What I mean by that is: do you have the right access to and support from the most senior executives in your organization to accomplish your mission? This includes where you sit in the organizational reporting structure, the actual influence you wield in your role, and the budget for technology and talent. If you are new to the organization, are they allowing you do what they hired you to do, or do you feel like it was a bait and switch? You were promised the ability and funds to build a great cyber and risk organization, but now that you’re on board, they are not fulfilling any of their promises. If you’re not positioned for success, you need to do something internally or externally to correct your alignment. If you are, then make sure you dedicate time to both strengthen and diversify your senior-most relationships. If you don’t currently have a sponsor within your organization who will utilize their political capital on your behalf, it’s time to establish one.
Second – Do I have the right skills and the right team to accomplish my mission?
Gone are the days that you are judged by your individual performance. Your reputation, your success, and your compensation will all be based on a combination of your skills and the team of people you surround yourself with. So, ask yourself, are there skills that I could sharpen to help me accomplish my personal and corporate goals. These may relate to technical competencies, business acumen, emotional intelligence, or executive presence. Do you need to engage an executive coach? Take additional classes or lead a new project? The new breed of successful CISOs is required to be proficient in all of these areas.
In terms of talent – do you have the autonomy to build the team that you want, or are you tethered to an inefficient internal recruiting process? Has recruiting become your network of friends and family as opposed to retaining a search firm who would free up your time and find you the best talent? People are your greatest asset and the essential tool you have to leverage in accomplishing your cybersecurity and risk plan. Don’t let an inefficient internal recruiting processes curtail your ability to achieve your goals or put your company at risk because of the length of time positions remain open. Sometimes this means you need to take ownership of the recruiting process and actively advocate for engaging a specialized search firm. When selecting a search firm, be sure to retain one with a proven track record in the industry that understands the nuances of your unique requirements. Once your team is built, make sure they know and are aligned to your mission. It’s also crucial to ensure that you have created an inclusive culture so that each member of your staff can thrive.
Finally – What am I doing to propel my career forward?
Ask yourself: What organizations do I belong to and actively support in a leadership role? How am I broadening my skill set to widen my potential for future internal or external roles? How am I strengthening and diversifying my professional network so that I may become aware or approached about other activities or opportunities? The network that got you your last job may not be the same network you need to propel you forward. Am I considering today how to prepare myself for the next phase of my career that might include Board service? If so, what am I currently doing to best educate and position myself for my first board seat? Being on an advisory or corporate Board is one way you can lengthen your career while gaining more flexibility in your life. The sooner you begin to prepare for your first board seat, the more time you will have to fill in any experience gaps and build the relationships and knowledge you need to be noticed and nominated.
These are all big questions that I believe you should keep in the front of your mind. I know it’s easy to get caught up in the stress and overwhelmingness of your current roles but if you aren’t asking yourself these hard questions and continuing to evaluate the hard truths of your answers, you are going to end up wasting valuable time. As a result, this can potentially end up stalling your career instead of moving your career forward. Above all, your happiness and sense of fulfillment are incredibly important. So much of our identities are wrapped into our professional roles and merged with our personal lives, that our happiness relies on us stepping up, taking control of our careers. I encourage you to take the time to think about what you can do to move in a positive direction. We are the masters of our destiny.