Cybertactix's Enterprise InfoSec Blog

February 16, 2012

Relationships Matter

Filed under: Career Skills — cybertactix @ 10:10 PM

Tonight I got a call from an “old friend” who happens to be a security recruiter.  When I say “old friend” that’s not precisely accurate statement, we’ve never physically met, only spoken on the phone and that has only been for the past couple of years, he just seems like an old friend because we get along so well and I enjoy the phone calls which are a mix of personal and professional items.  When he called tonight we spoke about his health issues and his children and also about what he has been up to professionally.  While we haven’t known each other long we have built a relationship which allows us to be frank with each other.

Part of tonight’s conversation was about relationships and the soft skills that are required to move ahead at the senior levels in a company, the larger the company the greater role soft skills play.  For a security professional a good mix of technology background and security mindset will get you started and certifications will definitely help your career but eventually you will hit the wall and the only way through it is by  having the relationship skills that allow you to open what is otherwise a locked door.  Unfortunately most companies focus all of their training budget and resources on improving technical skills and certifications.  They tend to leave soft skills like relationship building and managing staff aside until you reach a level where they are for all intents and purposes absolutely mandatory.

I recently spoke with another friend who was promoted to a senior (Managing Director) level last year.  He is now heading a security operations unit with a staff of several hundred and was told he has to attend management training.  He shared the pre-class assignment for the first session, a case used by the  Harvard Business School.  It dealt with a senior manager who after two years of running a very profitable division had some time for reflection and was troubled and wondering if he was doing a good job of leadership.  After reading the case study I saw a number of issues with it, most of which were related to how he was (or actually wasn’t involved with the people who reported to him).  What really troubled me though was that this assignment, which dealt with the basic “blocking and tackling” of being a manager (i.e. building a relationship with your staff), was the first real management training that that this Managing Director was getting from his company.  Don’t get me wrong, the company had provided him with training required to do his job, things like how to fill out the staff review forms and deliver the review and associated compensation information, but they hadn’t taught him the basics of building relationships.  Fortunately for him, unlike many technologists, he was a natural at it.

If you are at all concerned about your career you need to be concerned about your soft (non-technology) skills.  Your ability to work collaboratively with your peers (when you reach senior levels those below you will refer to your ability to collaborate as “playing company politics”) and to build relationships are the keys to the executive washroom.  The technical skills that were important in your role as a technologist become less important in your role as a manager where the key skills include the ability to motivate others, and as a senior manager where you need to get others to work with you and not against you.  For many these skills do not come easily, for me it is a constant task to take the initiative to meet others, shake hands, remember names, and smile but it is necessary in order to move forward in my career path.

And if you are thinking about switching jobs the ability to build relationships is a key factor in continued success.  When you are considering switching take an objective look at your position.  How much of your current success in the role is a result of your technical abilities and how much of it is your ability to influence or work collaboratively with others?  How effective will you be in a new role, division or company without the relationships you built in your current role, division or company?  When you are thinking about investing in your future don’t just think about investing in the more tangible things like technical skills and certifications, think about investing in the intangibles, relationships and the soft skills required to build them quickly and effectively.  Relationships matter!

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