Last month this column looked at how humor can enhance leadership. Inspired by the book "Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes," this month’s column explains security leadership through jokes.
On Risk Management and Business Development
“I was going to start a risk management business until I realized everything that could go wrong.”
Above all, security executives are risk managers. They should have a holistic view of risk that covers personnel, products, processes, policies, procedures and the panoply of other issues. Their role is not to dodge or eliminate risk but to counsel other executives on how and when it is advisable to accept risk that will lead to a greater reward.
In the joke, the fear of things going wrong throttles moving forward with business. Security professionals who can’t move forward when faced with risks are like doctors who won’t let their patients step outside for fear of catching a cold.
On Staff Training/Contingency Planning
“The security team interviewed me on fire-safety protocols today. They asked me what steps I’d take in a fire. I said, ‘big ones.’”
Security has the dual role of instilling security (and often safety) awareness in staff and to train staff for events, however unlikely. How many times have you heard of someone hiding inside during a fire alarm event so they wouldn’t be inconvenienced? Usually they don’t learn their lesson, because a fire that leads to injury or death in a commercial facility is relatively rare.
Key to security’s responsibility beyond mere compliance, is ensuring that staff automatically know how to respond in an emergency. Since panic might shut down their higher-order thinking, staff should be able to fall back on their training to respond properly and remove themselves and others from danger. In the joke, the employee has no training protocol to follow and may imperil himself and others.
On Staff Development
“A Chief Security Officer (CSO) returns from a staff development seminar full of new ideas. He calls his team together and tells them that his door is always open. Soon, an officer shyly enters and admits he has a problem. The CSO says: ‘There are no problems here, only opportunities.’ The officer replies, ‘OK, I have a drinking opportunity.’”
Servant-leaders give their reports routine access and encourage them to come forward with issues. That strengthens their relationship, empowers employees, encourages loyalty and provides CSOs with early warnings of potential problems that might lead to destructive behavior.
Though the punchline indicates otherwise, encouraging a staff member to come forward with a personal problem provides a powerful opportunity for the employee to exercise personal responsibility, maturely confront difficult issues, develop a stronger bond with the company, gain credibility and even advance to a higher position.
On Crisis Management and Accountability
“A departing CSO gives his successor three envelopes and tells her to open one each time a crisis occurs. When the first crisis occurs, she opens envelope #1, and it says, ‘Blame your predecessor.’ At the next crisis, she opens the second envelope, which reads: ‘Blame it on insufficient resources.’ Inevitably, a third crisis comes along and the CSO opens the final envelope to see: ‘Prepare three envelopes.’”
Security executives are expected to predict and protect against unlikely events without nearly enough resources to do so. With COVID-19, every security executive has now navigated through at least one major crisis. Now they have to learn the lessons of the pandemic to insulate their organization from the next disaster. CSOs who have mishandled two crises in a row probably won’t get the chance to prepare envelopes for their successors.
The joke also drives home the point of personal and team accountability. Security executives should be able to demonstrate what they reasonably did to predict, prepare for, manage and recover from a crisis. Take responsibility. Blaming a predecessor or complaining about a limited budget rarely goes over well.
“Four CSOs emerge from an ethics conference. The first CSO says, ‘We take on the weight of every ethical issue of our companies, but we have no one to share those issues with. Let’s confide in each other.’ The others agree. The first CSO says, ‘I’ve been looking the other way while the CEO is embezzling millions of dollars.’ The second CSO says, ‘I’m a great CSO, but I had to falsify my resume to get a job to get past HR screening software.’ The third CSO says, ‘I have to surreptitiously ensure that my tech company doesn’t hire anyone over 50.’ The fourth CSO says, ‘Security people are supposed to be discreet, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t keep my mouth shut.”’
Solid ethics are a nonnegotiable. Recently several CSOs have come under the microscope for questionable — even illegal— activities. If a situation makes you uneasy, find someone with whom you can talk about it legally and ethically, such as with general counsel or your supervisor. Just make sure he isn’t the fourth CSO in the joke above.