Peeking behind the mask

Leadership Moment: Putting on a Brave Face

Last week, I was in a room with about a hundred folks from around the world, atop one of the taller buildings in Tel Aviv. At the time, Hamas was launching rockets out of Gaza, and we could see the Iron Dome interceptions from time to time. Most of us weren’t Israeli, and we watched them closely. None of them seemed to be panicking, so most of the people in the room followed suit. We continued with the event, trusting that the early warning system would let us know if we needed to do anything different (we didn’t).

Not everyone was comforted by the brave faces, even if they didn’t show panic. One attendee later confided that they were terrified, but didn’t know how to express it. Another knew that rapid response might be needed, so was experiencing an adrenaline “high,” even if they themselves didn’t know what to do. A third was worried about how their family might take the news.

Just because everyone looks like they’re coping well, doesn’t mean they won’t need support; keep an eye on what’s going on behind the mask they’re wearing.


One Minute Pro Tip: Downplay Advice

Whether you intend it or not, when you give advice to someone else, it will likely come across as very confidently worded: If you do this, you will have amazing outcomes! Even if you don’t intend to sound like a clickbait article, it’s all too easy to come across that way. For your listener, any flaw in your advice is now a critical failure. Since they know it isn’t perfect, but you claim it is, then it must be useless, right?

Try adding a grain of salt to advice. “You might want to try doing X. It doesn’t always make things simple, but I’ve found in some situations that it smooths things over.” Your goal is to make the recipient willing to try a new behavior, and signaling that it’s okay to be cautious is a strategy that I’ve found to be very effective when I use it.

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Upcoming Appearances

May 16: panel moderator, What Security Leaders Are Doing Now to Keep Their Cloud Environments Safe, Cloud Security Live, with Justin Somaini, Unity CISO, Rich Friedberg, Live Oak Bank CISO, and Omer Singer, Snowflake Head of Cybersecurity Strategy

May 22: Jewish Book Council Network conference

May 31: Tufts radio

June 9: Talk, Building your leadership practice, RMISC, Denver, CO

June 14: Keynote & book signing, RVASec, Richmond, VA

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Chapter Cameo: Unsolicited Advice

Chapter 29 was originally going to be the introduction to 1% Leadership; in fact, the working title for the book was Unsolicited Advice, until my agent pointed out that while catchy, it was likely a terrible name, because who would buy a book they didn’t want? One of the greatest dangers in being a leader is that, ultimately, the majority of your job is giving advice, often to people who haven’t solicited it. And when you’re doing that, even slight exaggerations in your predictions of efficacy get in your way (now you have a reputation for being a snake oil salesperson), and if you’re not sensitive to the fact that someone else has a different experience than you, your advice may make them actively hostile to you.

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Ask a Leader

Got a question for me? Reply with a comment, or send me email or DM via your favorite messaging platform. Featured questions get a 30-day upgrade to see all the answers.

Leader B asks: A challenge I’m navigating as a new leader is coaching a female POC who is often unfairly stereotyped as an aggressive or hostile person, but there are also times where there is hostility or aggressiveness in her approach. I am struggling with how to coach her in these interactions in a way that allows her to feel like she can be her authentic self but also round some of the sharper edges. As a white male, I know I can do and act certain ways that she cannot and I am not fully comfortable explicitly or even implicitly coaching her to “code switch” and lose her authenticity and sense of self.

This sounds like a challenging situation for everyone involved, B, and you’re going to have to navigate a number of different issues, I think.  Let’s take them from “easiest” to “hardest.”

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