One of the more interesting dynamics within the security profession is the recognition it is receiving as a management function and the scrutiny that has followed. And as history has shown, that scrutiny has led to change.
You need go back just a century or so to recall how Ebenezer Scrooge showed no respect for the finance profession. Poor Bob Cratchit was certainly ahead of his time. As the head of finance, there were no highly respected CFO titles or eight figure compensation plans offered as there are today. Cratchit was an underpaid and under appreciated bookkeeper who led a cost center that generated little perceived value.
Somewhere along the line, finance became aligned with the organization’s goals and created a competitive advantage. And the word “leader” became associated with the finance profession. Finance earned respect. I guess the conversation went something like this from the CEO: “I expect all things related to finance to be managed in a proper and expert manner. Now, what can you do to help us reach our goals?”
Perhaps the first finance person to figure it out was at GM, who realized that their job was not to reject applications for less than stellar credit, rather to use credit to sell as many cars to as many people, which in turn helped the business.
HR met a similar fate. Jack Welch's book "Jack, Straight From the Gut" is the only business book where the HR director, Bill Conaty, is the hero when the concept of creating a competitive advantage by attracting, developing and retaining the best people was added to the CEO direction: “I expect you to do all things “HR” perfectly, but what can you do to help us beat our competitors?”
Twenty plus years ago, the data processing manager roamed the glass house well below the radar of his organization’s leaders and peers. But in the blink of an eye, it seemed, a sound IT strategy and program became critical for success. Some folks from the glass house made the change to leaders, but many did not.
It was easy to identify those who would succeed and those who would fail. Simply ask what he or she did for a living. If the IT manager at a bank told you he was an IT person, it was likely he would be replaced in short order. But those that answered they were in banking had taken the first step toward creating value for their organizations.
The greatest IT leader and leaper to success was Max Hopper. Hopper was a glass house mainframe programmer from his HP calculator to his pocket protector. But Hopper was not in “IT,” and he was not in airlines. Hopper was in transportation. He created AMR’s (American Airlines) reservation system known as SABRE (a $1.5 Billion company of which he was chairman) and later as the public company spun out to AMR shareholders, travelocity.com, which is used to make reservations for trains, planes and automobiles – globally.
Hopper and many other successful finance, HR and IT leaders broke down the silos, collaborated across and beyond their organizations and became a part of their organization’s core. They asked a lot of questions. And they used their skills and their departments to solve organizational problems, not IT problems. Max was among the best and the few who successfully made the leap. Their professions earned and gained respect one leader at a time.
During recent roundtables and interviews to develop this month’s cover story, “What Keeps You Up At Night?” a similar theme was repeated. You are being asked to lead the security function, but also to do more. And in many cases, “more” is not defined and is at best challenging to successfully navigate. As a result, many choose to ignore the call for leadership. But doing so may prove to be career-ending.
When it comes to earning respect, the profession is being delineated along the lines of the haves and the have-nots. The haves understand expectations, consider themselves executives (not security executives) and proactively set strategy to be expert at all things “Security” but do much more. And while the haves will not all become the next Hoppers, they have the best chance.
You have visibility and, the opportunity to earn respect for the profession, your department and yourself. Your boss, co-workers, boards, vendors, customers and other stakeholders are watching the new player at the big round table – Security. Successful leadership will add great value, create that competitive advantage and gain the hard-earned respect in the profession you deserve.