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Take Me Out, Coach: Encouraging Balance Amid Crisis Mode

Crisis mode. Crunch time. On the ropes. Whatever you call it, security professionals have been rolling with the punches for nearly two years of everything the COVID-19 pandemic could throw at an organization. In the midst of heightened emotions, rapidly shifting threats, the “great resignation,” and constant demands from stakeholders and the C-suite, it can be challenging to take a step back and reassess how best to lead through a challenging time.

This may mean revamping traditional command-and-control management styles within security—and within business as a whole.

According to a 2019 Harvard Business Review article, “The Leader as Coach,” today, rapid, constant, and disruptive change is the norm—and it was even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Twenty-first-century managers simply don’t (and can’t!) have all the right answers,” the article said. “To cope with this new reality, companies are moving away from traditional command-and-control practices and toward something very different: a model in which managers give support and guidance rather than instructions, and employees learn how to adapt to constantly changing environments that unleash fresh energy, innovation, and commitment.

“The role of the manager, in short, is becoming that of a coach,” the article continued.

Managers now need skills as a psychologist, therapist, leader, coach, and more to motivate and retain employees.

According to Jennifer Holcomb, CPP, PSP, senior director and security solution lead for Markon Solutions, “A new focus on what it meant to be a leader versus a manager was already changing the landscape prior to COVID-19. Managing employees of different ages in the workforce also mandated expanding the methods required to motivate and provide fulfillment to the workforce. COVID complicated matters—how do organizations balance working from home and employee health concerns with contract execution and increased cyber threats?

“Managers now need skills as a psychologist, therapist, leader, coach, and more to motivate and retain employees,” she continues.

In the midst of long-term crises, employees are at higher risk of burnout or even physical stress symptoms. According to “Managing Through Crunch Time Without Burning Out Your Team” in Harvard Business Review, team leaders need to mentor employees and invest in building up loyalty, trust, and commitment before and after a crunch period to ensure employees are ready to tackle the next crisis. But they also need to maintain morale and confidence during a crunch—ensuring team members could connect with leaders quickly and communicate problems, setting clear goals, and demonstrating a willingness to put the team before their personal interest.

“Constant high alert and stress takes a toll on a person’s emotional and mental well-being,” Holcomb says. “They need time off to recover, which is often difficult when technology keeps employees tied back to work through email and text messaging. Managers need to let personnel take that time off and disconnect. Encourage separation of work and home. Check in with individuals to make sure they are doing well and handling stress. Encourage use of corporate benefits such as the employee assistance program (EAP) or other outreach options. Supporting the workforce will likely increase their interest and ability to continue supporting the company.”

The best thing any security professional can do is understand what metrics are now available to show how risks have expanded but also some of the mitigations that can be utilized to reduce risk.

Holcomb is one of the learning theater captains for the Coaching: Building and Motivating Teams track at GSX 2021, where attendees will be able to learn how to use metrics, messaging tips, and more effective presentations to sell the value of the security department, while also gaining valuable insights into being a savvy security and business leader.

Holcomb’s co-captain in the Coaching Learning Theater at GSX is Christopher Walker, who adds that it is essential for security leaders to deeply understand business drivers and strategies so that they can adequately prioritize missions that need the most attention, concentrating personnel’s efforts where they can do the most good. This may require security leaders to invest in themselves. While many professionals are experts in security, they fail to speak the language of the business, which can lead to disconnects between the C-suite and the security desk about essential roles, where to spend time and funds, and which crises are worth ramping up operations over, he says.

“The increase in crises has shown the C-suite that there are more risks to consider that impact their bottom line,” Holcomb adds. “The best thing any security professional can do is to understand what metrics are now available to show how risks have expanded but also some of the mitigations that can be utilized to reduce the risk. Take advantage of the information, metrics, and direct costs that can be used to support the business case (or address potential pitfalls). Using financial data and solid research to build a business case will speak to what the C-suite knows and is concerned about as well as showing your knowledge and value to the corporation.”

Claire Meyer is managing editor for Security Management, the parent publication of the GSX Daily. Connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at [email protected].