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Vantage Point: Reflections on Leadership in Our Industry

by Steve Raia, Member, InfraGardNCR Board of Directors

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of InfraGard, an organization that brings together leaders from across industry to collaborate with the Bureau to protect our nation's critical infrastructure, it is a good time to reflect on what it means to lead in our industry. Five major lessons come to mind as I reflect on what I have learned from mentors and colleagues throughout my career.

First, leadership is about achieving a goal together. Some leaders build groups of individuals who are focused on their own goals, earning their own bonuses, and advancing their own careers. These groups often deliver results but tend to be rife with conflict and leave carnage in their wake. When times get hard, members of these teams are likely to turn on each other because one person's success will be seen as another person's loss. Great leaders fashion a group of individuals into a team that supports one another, has a mix of skills and styles, develops a unique identity, celebrates group success, and comes together in a crisis. Which one would you prefer to be part of while responding to a high-stakes incident?

Second, leadership is about setting an example that inspires both achievement and balance. As leaders, we are usually aware that we need to set an example for high performance. At the most basic level, we set an example for behavior, dress code, timeliness, and more. All of this is important, but we also owe it to our teams to set an example about balance. In a high-pressure environment, employees may be unwilling to take time off if their leaders never take a vacation. Employees feel they need to show they are doing even more than the manager. Over time, this leads to burnout, low quality work, relationship stress, health problems, and employee turnover. Leaders can also help drive balance in other ways, such as between delivering client requirements today and investing in skills growth or internal process improvement so the team can perform better tomorrow. Which type of leader would you work harder for, and whose back will you have when things get tough?

Third, leadership is about listening. No matter how smart or knowledgeable you are, I guarantee that you do not know more than your entire team. Creating a team with diverse perspectives, an environment in which they feel empowered to share their ideas, a willingness to accept ideas from others, and the maturity to recognize others for the ideas they bring forward are all essential to being a leader who listens. Would you rather work for a leader who invites, values, and gives you credit for your ideas, or one who avoids input or takes credit for other people's ideas?

Fourth, leadership thrives on challenge and gives people the opportunity to grow and learn. Everyone at every level of an organization makes mistakes. As leaders, we need to respond effectively to mistakes. Early in my career, I made a significant mistake that could have resulted in loss of valuable data. The VP invited me to her office to talk. Instead of firing me, she calmly told me that while I had made a major mistake, she believed in me and did not want to let a good crisis go to waste. She coached me through resolving the issue and made sure I learned a number of important lessons from the situation, not the least of which is the importance of learning from failure. Which approach will motivate you to do your very best work in the future?

Fifth, leadership requires that the team is better at the end of an assignment than at the beginning. Too many leaders drive their teams so hard to achieve a milestone, they forget about the ability of the team to deliver the next objective. Yes, it is important to complete the current work, but it is even more important to have a team that is ready for the next big opportunity. Investing in your team's skills, relationships, and well-being is essential for that next step. Who would you rather promote – a leader who gets things done but breaks the team along the way, or a leader who gets things done and ensures their team is ready to go for the next challenge?

As we look forward to the next 25 years of InfraGard, let us make sure that as we work together to solve our nation's critical infrastructure security problems, we move forward together, we develop a healthy sense of balance, we learn to listen to those around us, we create an environment that prizes learning from our mistakes, and we leave our teams and our infrastructure in better shape for the future than when we first encountered them.


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