Leadership Essay

Leadership Essay

Application Essay Guidelines

We aspire to develop security engineers who can be leaders in our industry. To help ground so broad a term, the past President of the SANS Technology Institute, Stephen Northcutt, wrote a Leadership Essay to help characterize and expand upon our definition of leadership. Please read his essay below and explore some of the resources he suggests.

Then, write two- to three-page essay, single-spaced, in your own words about (1) your own preferred definition(s) of leadership, (2) some competencies where you believe you have strengths, and (3) also the competencies you would most like to develop. Relate each competency to a personal and/or professional experience. Include a discussion of why 'leadership', rather than just 'engineering' or 'management', is particularly important in the information security field at this time.


Leadership Essay


By Stephen Northcutt

Abstract

Leadership is a broad term, open to interpretation. However, it is the core focus of the SANS Technology Institute's mission. The purpose of this essay is to define what we mean by leadership, to express the core competencies that you will be exposed to in the program, and to discuss what leadership means in the context of information security.

Definition of Leadership

A leader is a person who guides or inspires others within an organization or community to achieve a goal. Leadership development begins with the simple realization that you want to be a leader. Life has many opportunities to press forward and take charge of a situation, or conversely, to shrink into the background. This is why we ask prospective students to write an essay about demonstrated leadership when they apply to our school.

Leadership and Competencies

What does leadership mean? How do you measure leadership? One approach is through leadership competencies. We define competencies as measurable skills, knowledge, and abilities that identify successful leaders in the information security discipline. In your graduate program, you will be exposed to core competencies. Some of the competencies that you will be taught are reinforced by specific coursework and exercises:

  • Team Development and Relationship Building: This will occur when you attend a SANS conference and interact with fellow students, and as a result of both of your group projects.
  • Importance of Communication: The research and presentation course will help you develop your oral and written communication skills.
  • Self-Direction: We will monitor your progress throughout the program, but it will be up to you to register for and complete courses within the allowed.
  • Coaching and Training: As a graduate student and emerging, or growing, leader, you will have multiple opportunities to mentor your peers and fellow students.
  • Leadership Qualities: The faculty you will work with are leaders in the field of information security. Look to them to model leadership in the information security field.
  • Vision Development: As a graduate student, you will be required to present original, creative work through the research papers and policy papers.
  • Project Planning: You will learn about Project Management Planning your program, and a project plan is a requirement of one of the group projects.

Other competencies listed below will be taught in your required courses:

  • Conflict Resolution
  • Employee Involvement
  • Change Management
  • Motivation of Employees and Teammates
  • Leadership Development
  • Leading Tribes
  • Brainstorming
  • Leading Change

Two of the competencies are of utmost important. How does a leader who has a vision ultimately guide or inspire others towards a goal? They have to be great communicators. Therefore, two of the most important skills you will work on are:

  • Ability to communicate well orally
  • Ability to communicate well in writing

Leaders in information assurance often have different goals. Some leadership roles in information security are similar to other disciplines, while others are unique. A few examples of security leadership roles are listed below:

  • Manager, team leader, or project manager
  • The technical "go to" person
  • Thought leader
  • Instructor, mentor
  • Tribe leader, someone that can build a large following to accomplish a goal
  • Change agent, someone who uses their thought leadership position to alter the way we look at technology or process
  • Technical tool author who creates or leads the team that develops a security tool

What is the difference between a manager and a leader? A successful leader needs all of the same competencies as a manager, but some of the competencies must be more developed. For instance, vision. You can be a successful manager with a minimal capability for vision. In fact, that is something Human Resources may look for in an industry that is based on repeatable tasks. However, you cannot lead without vision. The Security Thought Leaders interview series introduces a number of visionary leaders in the information assurance industry. In addition, you must have power beyond your positional power, which is the authority that comes with your role or job description. For many students in the MSISE program, this will lead to something called expert power: people will want to be on your team partly because of your knowledge of technical security. Our goal is for you to be able to work at the highest technical level in your organization, and for you to be a bridge between management and technical groups in your organization.

Developing Your Leadership Skills

One reason to start focusing on your leadership skills today is that leadership is learned over years, not months. The best way to become a senior leader is by studying competencies and having the discipline to make them become habits and tools in your life. We can define a senior leader as someone who attains a highly respected rank. Examples include:

  • CEO, CTO, CSO, CISO
  • Board member, Chairman of the Board
  • President, Vice President, Director, Program Manager