The Virtual CISO with Brandy Harris

Professional Certifications & Continuous Training , Training & Security Leadership

How to Hire, Retain and Inspire Exceptional Employees

Leading Means Admitting What You Don't Know - And Other Tips for Leaders
How to Hire, Retain and Inspire Exceptional Employees
Image: Getty Images

The more I Iearn, the more I know I don’t know. The more experiences I have, the more classes I take, the more people I talk to, the more I realize I still have so much to learn. Good leaders recognize this about themselves and surround themselves with smart people who round out the knowledge and skills of the team.

See Also: When Every Identity is at Risk, Where Do You Begin?

Being an effective leader involves recognizing and embracing the expertise of others, particularly in areas where your own knowledge is limited. In the field of cybersecurity, the principle of hiring individuals who possess greater knowledge and expertise than the leader is particularly crucial.

Cybersecurity is an incredibly wide field and it is a critical business practice; the consequences of doing it poorly are severe. The challenges are complex, multifaceted and ever-evolving so they require a deep understanding of various technologies, threat landscapes, regulatory environment and protective strategies. I’m not sure it is possible to be a deep-dive expert in all areas of cybersecurity but even if someone is, they still need to have other voices in the room.

Benefits of Employing a Variety of Experts

  • Innovation: Leaders who hire experts with superior knowledge show their commitment to innovation and excellence. By encouraging a culture of continuous learning and experimentation, leaders can ensure that the team regularly develops innovative solutions to security challenges. A diversity of expertise enhances the organization's defensive capabilities, builds resilience and enables rapid recovery from security incidents.
  • Rapid adaptation: To stay ahead of threats, leaders must ensure their teams are composed of experts who continuously learn and adapt to new methods of attack and defense and maintain a constant state of vigilance, knowledge sharing and agility.
  • Enhanced credibility: Hiring individuals who are more knowledgeable in particular areas can enhance a leader's credibility. It demonstrates humility, self-awareness and a focus on the organization's success above personal ego. Leaders who assemble such teams show their commitment to protecting sensitive information and maintaining the trust of customers, partners and stakeholders, which is essential for maintaining the reputation of the organization and complying with regulatory requirements and industry standards.
  • Strategic decision-making and responses: Effective leadership involves making informed, strategic decisions that will guide the organization toward its long-term objectives. Having a wide range of subject matter experts on the team enhances decision-making because it ensures that a wide range of perspectives and insights are considered. Cybersecurity encompasses a wide range of specialized areas, and leaders need to cover all of its critical aspects to ensure a comprehensive defense strategy.

How to Attract Highly Intelligent Candidates

  • Promote a compelling vision and mission: Highly intelligent people are often motivated by the opportunity to contribute to meaningful and challenging projects. Clearly articulate your organization's vision and mission - and the impact it seeks to make. Show them how their work will contribute to these goals.
  • Offer intellectual challenges and growth opportunities: Smart individuals thrive in environments that challenge them and offer opportunities for personal and professional growth. Highlight the complex problems they will solve, the innovative projects they will lead and the learning opportunities they can take advantage of - such as workshops, conferences and mentorship programs.
  • Showcase a culture of excellence and innovation: Promote your organization's culture, emphasizing values such as excellence, innovation, collaboration and continuous improvement. Share stories and examples of how your team has innovated and succeeded and how you foster an environment where new ideas are valued and rewarded.
  • Provide autonomy and flexibility: Allow individuals to work in ways that best suit their productivity and creativity. Flexibility in work hours, remote work options and a focus on outcomes rather than strict office hours can be highly attractive to top talent.
  • Highlight competitive compensation and benefits: Make your compensation and benefits packages attractive and competitive within your industry - including salaries, bonuses, health benefits, retirement plans and other perks such as wellness programs or continuous learning allowances.
  • Foster an inclusive and diverse environment: Ability is evenly distributed across all sectors of our population. Demonstrate your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. A diverse and inclusive workplace attracts a wider range of candidates and enriches the organizational culture by fostering innovation and creativity.
  • Emphasize impact and recognition: Communicate how your organization recognizes and rewards contributions and achievements. Talented individuals want to know that their work will be appreciated and that there are clear paths for recognition and advancement.
  • Make the recruitment process smooth and engaging: Your recruitment process should be efficient, respectful and appealing. Top candidates often have multiple offers, so a cumbersome or slow process can be a deterrent. Personalize the recruitment experience, communicate clearly and regularly and make the process as streamlined as possible.

How to Retain Exceptional Employees

  • Embrace humility: Acknowledging that you don't have all the answers and are open to learning from others can make you a more credible and approachable leader.
  • Foster autonomy and ownership: Providing your team with ownership of their projects and tasks empowers them to leverage their skills and intelligence fully, leading to higher job satisfaction.
  • Set clear expectations and goals: While autonomy is crucial, it's also important to set clear expectations and goals. This provides direction and ensures that individual efforts contribute to the organization's overarching objectives.
  • Encourage open dialogue and debate: Allow team members to challenge assumptions, refine ideas and contribute to the collective intelligence of the team.
  • Offer continuous learning opportunities: This can be done through formal training, conferences or cross-disciplinary projects to keep your team engaged and motivated.
  • Promote collaboration and teamwork: While smart individuals may excel independently, collaboration can lead to synergies that amplify the team's overall performance and creativity.
  • Provide constructive feedback: Feedback should be specific, actionable and delivered in a respectful and supportive manner. A balance between positive feedback and constructive criticism can help maintain motivation and drive continuous improvement.


About the Author

Brandy Harris

Brandy Harris

Director, Learning And Organizational Development, CyberEd.io

Harris has more than 20 years of experience in education and is dedicated to evolving the cybersecurity workforce. She develops and evaluates cybersecurity programs. Harris promotes diversity and inclusion in cybersecurity by fostering collaboration between industry and academia, aiming to bridge the talent gap and drive positive change. She previously served as assistant dean and faculty member in the graduate cybersecurity program at Grand Canyon University.




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