Over the last few months I’ve been asked by multiple people how I deal with stress. This is no surprise – it is well documented that Chief Information Security Officers and many other security professionals have uniquely stressful line of work.
Security leaders have all kinds of challenges to deal with in the course of protecting their business and its customers. The stakes are especially higher when protecting not just information, but people’s lives and/or quality of life.
In order to be effective, security leaders need to manage risk in extremely complex environments. This responsibility can extend to managing teams, creating vision, inspiring change, negotiating with stakeholders, organising systems, people & work, planning how to execute on the vision and lots more. In so far as management goes, this is nothing particularly new.
However, security leaders have a pivotal role in protecting the organisation and its customers from crisis; cyber attacks have a way of choosing the least opportune moment to strike and when they do, security leaders are on the hook. Security leaders are scrutinised by their ability to protect and lead the organisation both from crisis and at a time of crisis.
To compound this, global security is declining. International cyber-crime groups are flourishing with impunity in places like Russia. Geopolitical alliances are sharply polarising with the risk of collateral damage of cyber-warfare spilling over and impacting western businesses. Both threats present a very real risk to western businesses, and the lives and livelihoods of people in the west.
So I reflected on the question that was posed to me – “how do you do it?”
For me personally, the last few months have been especially crazy. My wife has been in hospital several times. We’ve had a fourth child and we’ve had limited sleep. Believe it or not, that’s not the challenging part.
The really challenging part for us has been supporting our kids – we now have 4 children, two of whom are high functioning ASD. Anyone who has experience with ASD will be familiar with the hour by hour challenge of dealing with emotional dysregulation and typical challenges associated with challenged executive function. This can be relentless and thoroughly exhausting for the child/ren and the parents.
So in reflection, no shortage of stressors in my personal and professional life. So to answer the question, how do I manage it?
Perspective & purpose
What’s important in life?
For me it’s my family and my future. As much as I love my work and the team at work, I have a very clear purpose and future for my life that doesn’t include work. That’s not to say that I slack off at work – quite the opposite, I’m known for being motivated, focussed and hard working. But work isn’t the end-goal for me. I’m invested in doing a great job, but far more invested in my future & purpose. Unfortunately too many people conflate these things.
I meditate every day – it clears my mind and brings me a profound sense of peace – even after a harrowing day. Meditation takes many different forms – my meditation consists of reading through the Bible, understanding it and and deriving meaning and purpose.
Allocating time to meditate is essential in order to have a mind that is clear and effective. Research has shown that meditation is especially helpful for anyone struggling with anxiety or other mental health issues which typically amplify stress.
When I switch off work, I try to switch off properly. Research has shown that this is an extremely effective way of dealing with stress. I do this in a few ways.
- I use the focus feature on my mobile phone to control who/what can contact or send me a notification and when. This does things like block calls during dinner time so that we can share an uninterrupted family dinner.
- When I finish work, I leave my phone in my room and only use my Apple Watch for minimal interaction with notifications.
- If I work after-hours, it’s usually only on the condition that it will not result in unmanageable stress or conflict with other personal matters which would otherwise increase stress.
I push work to trusted individuals. If you haven’t built a team that you trust as a security leader, you need to build a trusted and competent team so that you can delegate. Building trust in your team can only happen if you have the right culture.
Across the industry, security people often have XXX hours worth of tasks that need to be done in a day.
Constantly stepping back, and reassessing and splitting my work into 80/20 is important. I can’t do everything, so I pick what I colloquially call “the burning priorities”. Those that don’t make the cut get delegated to other trusted individuals and others I’ll defer or push back on.
Improving – or implementing – the systems and/or processes that are needed to manage the flow of work in the organisation is also an effective way to ensure that prioritisation and focus is correctly systematised.