The military has produced many incredible leaders and accomplished business people who have made many noteworthy and life-changing contributions to corporate America. One just has to consider the likes of Daniel Akerson, Alex Gorsky, Robert McDonald, Robert Myers, James Skinner, Frederick Smith, and many, many more. These individuals took what they learned in the military with them into civilian life and their corporate careers. This has been the case ever since there was a military. The principles taught in the military – like team work, service, honor, sacrifice, leadership, mission, loyalty, etc. – add to the experiences an individual gains in their chosen field to create a powerful combination of skills that prepares them to succeed in their civilian careers. From their earliest training days, whether in boot camp or officers’ candidate school, members of the military are taught how to make decisions while under stress, and to work collaboratively with their fellow servicemen and women to accomplish a mission.
This winning attitude and the ability to persevere and stay focused on the goal, no matter the obstacles, are intangible traits that are baked into the military and seared through their service around the globe. These traits, however, are not taught in business school. Military veterans show up for their first day of civilian work ready to serve, eager to learn, focused on winning and, if or when given the opportunity, ready to lead. Veterans have an innate since of responsibility learned through the reality of the critical reliance every serviceman has for his or her fellow comrades-in-arms. The men and women leaving the service are well-suited for many roles in business, such as the role of CISO.
Every service member understands security intuitively, as it is a basic component of military operations. Certain occupational fields evolve even greater appreciation for security disciplines as critical parts of their jobs. These include information technology, avionics, engineers, crypto analysts, intelligence, communications, special weapons, and so on. These service members must not only understand the technology they deploy or work on, but how to secure it. They have to learn the critical balance between operational security and mission accomplishment. They have to understand the threat they face and how to apply countermeasures to defeat it, while supporting the organization’s mission. They know that every time they do something, there is a real threat that they must keep a vigilant eye on. They understand that there is a cyber enemy out there that wants what they have, wants to take it away from them, and will do harm if given the chance. This operational awareness is a critical skill needed by CISOs today. Every day, CISOs must help their organizations navigate the onslaught of nation-state actors, hackers, cybercriminals and malware threats that threaten to do harm to their businesses. Service members come with this operational awareness sense ingrained in them.
The CISO must also understand the mission of the organization and be able to balance the need for security with the successful accomplishment of that mission.
Again, this is an area where military veterans excel because they inherently understand the mission comes first. They have been taught to identify every reasonable threat, investigate all avenues for mitigation, and use their knowledge of technical, procedural and operational controls to manage it effectively. Military veterans with intelligence and cyber backgrounds are particularly adept at these skills. When there is an incident, they are especially suited for the high-stress and fast-paced activities often required to stop the event and restore operations. They have spent long days and nights in the operations center, the communications center or the field during extremely stressful situations with a lot on the line. That experience equips them particularly well to being part of an incident response team. They are ready to do whatever it takes to stop the threat and return the organization back to its mission.
The military provides people with many skills that directly apply to being a CISO in a corporate environment, but it’s the intangible experience and skills they gain that make them especially well-suited to succeed, serve, and lead. These skills aren’t taught in any business school or corporate leadership course. Fortunately for corporate America, military veterans bring these invaluable skills with them.