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Q&A: Tim McCreight, CPP, on Mentorship, Leadership, and the Value of Volunteerism

Tim-McCreight-200x250.jpgWhen growing up and serving as a young Royal Canadian Air Cadet, Tim McCreight, CPP, had an opportunity to be the master of the mess hall. He called the head table to be served, followed by the dignitaries, then the squadron. But a colonel stepped forward with a lesson that stuck with McCreight for the rest of his life: Leaders should take care of their teams first, sending the squadron to the front of the food line and ensuring their needs are met. This influenced McCreight’s leadership style, volunteerism, and personal mission from his early military career until today—as he steps forward as the 2023 ASIS International President of the Global Board of Directors.

We need to make sure our teams and our organizations are set for success, and that starts with putting others before us,” McCreight says. “My career has been about how I serve. Those are the three things I want to focus on in my time as president for ASIS: how can I help? How can I give back? How can we grow? That’s the challenge I'm going to have to every member of ASIS for 2023.”

So, what are McCreight’s answers to those questions?

“How can I help? My first thought is we have an amazing profession that we can become part of. Why are we not talking to people who aren't part of it and ask them to join? What if a member brings a member? Simple request, just one to start,” he says. “How can I give back? One of the things that I've always tried to do is find opportunities to provide either some lessons learned, some of the mistakes I've made, or some of the successes I've had. How can I give that back and share—how can I mentor and help the next generation of security professionals grow? That links to the last one, which is, how can we grow?

“We grow by success,” he continues. “We grow by inviting others into the profession and showing them the path that they can take from a security guard to a chief security officer.”

McCreight regularly uses his personal story as an example for up-and-coming security professionals—over the course of 42 years, he grew from being a member of the Canadian Air Force to a hotel security guard to a manager, a chief security officer, a chief information security officer, and—now—a security and risk management consultant. He jokes that he has had almost every security job in the org chart throughout his career, which puts him in a unique position to advise a broad spectrum of next generation professionals on how to get to his level—just without taking 42 years to get there.

“That's how we can grow—finding the way to tell our story, finding opportunities to bring in the next generation, and finding leaders within our profession to keep moving it forward,” he says.

Learn more about McCreight’s leadership philosophy, volunteering tips, and goals for ASIS in his interview with Security Management here. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Between the COVID-19 pandemic, significant supply chain challenges, geopolitical conflict, and cyberattacks, there's a lot happening in the world of security. It can be very stressful, it can very easily take over your life, and volunteer time tends to be one of the things that gets sacrificed. How do you fit that into the equation of everything you have going on?

McCreight. I appreciate that everyone has a different balance between work life, volunteer life, and home life. It’s an issue of trying to find and strike that balance and then offering the time that you can and being productive during that time.

It’s also a matter of making sure that the time I offer is used as effectively and efficiently as possible. I’ve become, I think, a master at managing time now. I get brutally efficient with my time management.

The time I allocate to volunteering, I separate that from everything else and that’s the time and the focus that I put towards it. I may only be able to offer one or two hour blocks a day or maybe only a few hours a week, but in that time, I’m going to try to accomplish as much as I can.

That dedication aligns with some of the new initiatives that we’ve seen coming from ASIS. There’s the mentoring program that has been successful, and there’s a new working group on mental health and wellness. How does that mission on soft skills and the personal wellness of security professionals change the narrative for ASIS?

McCreight. Both of them are truly important initiatives that we need to make sure we continue to follow and move forward into the new year and well beyond.

From a mentoring perspective, I still have mentors in my career. When I’m reviewing either a process, a policy, a procedure, or coming up with an approach, I still ask for help for that. I talk to mentors that I’ve had for a number of years to ask them what they think.

For the mental health initiative, boy do we need that now more than ever and moving forward. I think all of us have started to realize the impacts that the last two and a half years have had on all of us collectively across the globe. Security professionals have been no different.

During the pandemic, we’ve been asked to do far different things than what our typical role was. We’ve risen to the occasion, but there’s a cost. I think we’re starting to pay that cost. It’s time that all of us as members of the security profession take the time to do that mental health check, to understand if there is anything that’s concerning us or that we need help with, and, holy smokes, put up your hand and ask for help.

We have to get outside of this ego approach where we don’t need help. We absolutely do. In many cases, we just need someone just to talk to. If a professional comes and asks you for help, listen, and then try to find that right resource that can help them move forward. There is never any shame.

Something that I’ve heard you talk about in the past is building a sense of community, but community with an action behind it. Can you tell me a little bit more about that philosophy and how that fits in within ASIS?

McCreight. We’ve always had communities of interest where people share information. Once we have that sharing, we’ve established that relationship, and we’ve built that community, what can we do now? The number of people who want to help and move this profession forward is limitless if we ask.

Within our membership of 34,000 people within ASIS, wouldn’t it be great if we all focused even more, asked for help, targeted a couple of initiatives, and executed on them?

I’ve seen that work. I’ve done it in organizations, and I’m doing it right now in my current organization. We have communities of interest, but at the end of it, what’s the product or what’s the service? When can it be delivered? Then, how do we measure success moving forward? I think if we apply some business principles to that same approach, there are some amazing things we can do with this year and beyond.

Can you give me some examples of how you’ve seen that work in the past?

McCreight. In one of the organizations where I was a chief executive, we created a group of team members who were outside of the security team. We asked them for their perspective and opinion on the services that we were offering and what could we do to enhance the service or provide better value. It was almost like a consumer group looking at the services we were offering.

I used that as an opportunity to identify where we could grow and some of the things that we could change. It helped create a better and a more collaborative environment between us and the people who we were providing services to. We were able to fine-tune some of the work that we were doing. We were able to drop some of the work that wasn’t of any value to anybody and pick up work that was providing more value that we could execute for them. We changed our approach, we changed our delivery model, and we found success in that first year.

Looking directly at your ASIS journey, you've been in many, many roles. Is there something that you felt particularly proud of that you accomplished within ASIS?

McCreight. Oh, wow. I think there’s a lot that I have enjoyed when it comes to my ASIS engagement.. One of the things that I was really proud of was being involved with enterprise security risk management (ESRM) and being asked to be part of that team. Just the skills, the knowledge, the expertise that when we first started on that journey—wow, I felt like I was a kid in a room with a bunch of adults, because these folks were talking about just some amazing opportunities and approaches we can take from that risk-based, business-focused lens.

The amount of skill on that team that still exists today—how they’re moving forward with their approach and the work that they’re doing—it’s phenomenal to see.

As your presidency begins, what are you looking forward to the most?

McCreight. One, a chance to give back. This marks 40 some years I’ve been in this position, in security, in the career. It’s nice to give back to folks and to listen and to find where people would like to drive this profession and to help them in that journey.

Two, I’m looking forward to meeting as many members as I can. It’s going to be such a great opportunity for me to virtually or in person meet as many people as possible across the globe.

I’m looking forward to that and to hear everybody’s stories. For me, one of the reasons I’ve stayed in security and I’ve stayed as a volunteer is that the stories I get a chance to hear are just amazing: to hear people’s stories and their journeys, to listen to where they’ve been in their career and how they came to the family of security, to learn how they selected security as their profession. To me, that’s one of the biggest joys I have in this role.

What sort of advice do you have for those incoming members, for next-gen professionals, for people who are just starting out that journey?

McCreight. As you come into the profession— whether you’re coming in from another part of your career or you’re brand new to it—don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, and bring in your personal experience.

When we consider the skills that a security professional needs, many of the skills that we think of already exist from other parts of our career. Think about dealing with difficult individuals; working with customers and clients on the frontline; or working with management, finances, HR, etc. All of the skills that you acquired before you decide to come into security, you can bring them with you. All of those skills are transferable, but because invariably we’re going to be dealing with something that you experienced before from a different lens or the other side of the table—bring those perspectives with you. Those experiences are going to help shape your approach to a problem or a project or initiative. You can bring in something other than the security mindset.

Claire Meyer is managing editor for Security Management. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or via email at [email protected].