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Four Principles for Leadership for Security and Safety in the New Normal

Earth has been ravaged and disrupted for millions of years by natural disasters, plagues, and other challenges to our ecosystems. The dinosaurs were able to survive for 66 million years until they finally met a (big) force they could not adapt to. Humans have been able to survive similar types of challenges to our ecosystem over the past 300,000 years, with similar successes. We have shifted, adjusted, and adapted to nearly everything which has been thrown at us. Now our species has been challenged yet again, prompting us to think about the way we not only survive, but live, work, and, one day, thrive again.

In an increasingly distributed and virtual world, trust and culture may not be so easy to establish. Leadership and management models we have been using successfully for the past 20 to 50 years may no longer be the best options. Strategic objectives may no longer align with our purpose, or that of our societies.

The way we communicate, share information, and learn is evolving as well. Research from all corners of the world is revealing that thinking is changing in more ways than one, due to both necessity and a realization that the extreme challenges also present opportunities to do things better.

In essence, we are at a major inflection point, which affords us the chance to reroute our connections. This includes how we lead in any industry or endeavor, and for us, this has implications for safety and security. This holds true for organizations, entrepreneurs, and consultants, which brings us to four new principles for leaders:

Leverage Technology to Build Team Trust and Culture Quicker

We all understand that trust and culture do not happen by accident and are traditionally steadily established over time, and with intent, from the very beginning of the engagement. The unfortunate (or fortunate?) fact is that in today’s dizzying pace of personal and business interactions, we often do not have that luxury.

We may be part of a short-term virtual or project team in order to solve a complex problem or issue. To do this collectively, we must build this trust and culture first, but quickly. Understanding the time-limited opportunity to break down and solve the issue, work aggressively at the very beginning to establish frequent communication via online mediums such as video conferencing, and encourage your team to be open and honest, feedback (and feedforward) information to one another, debate divergent views, and resolve internal conflicts simultaneously, ultimately solving the problem or issue they have been brought together to deliver a solution for.

Construct Novel Models of Thinking and Operating

Do you really require an hour and a half of everyone’s time at every meeting, every day, to discuss, brainstorm, drill down, and map solutions? Or would it be more effective to cut that in half (at most) a few times per week, with a focused agenda, and allow team members to think, plan, and prepare to execute between those times?

Productivity and value studies indicate that people generally perform better and produce greater results from working in sprint cycles, rather than over longer periods. The human brain has a short attention span, and higher-level thinking drops off very quickly when capacity is reached.

Design your team’s schedule—where possible—to allow for this flexibility based on individual context and environment, while balanced with overall mission and collective goals. What sets the new era apart is that we must learn how to be effective virtual leaders as well.

Eliminate the Competition Mind-Set, and Instead Focus on Collaboration

Competition has been the foundation of business and success for hundreds, if not thousands of years. So has collaboration. Our ancestor hunter-gatherers would not have survived had they not teamed collaboratively to find and track food, and neither would have many animal species. However, sometime around the dawn of the industrial revolution, individuals and organizations shifted to a competition mind-set to get ahead of their peers and win market share, either through providing valuable services or products.

In the networked and interdependent nature of today’s social and business worlds, this is no longer an advantage, but a crutch. Innovation, creativity, and critical thinking are key to problem solving, and this process is much more efficient via interconnected, interdisciplinary teams with professionals of complementary knowledge and skills. Working with one another in this context, rather than competing, is a win–win for both.

Integrate Human and Systems Factors into One Framework

A majority of people are either good at dealing with technical details, via protocols, procedures, processes, or systems, or are adept at soft skills such as communications, empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, and other social skills (collectively often referred to as emotional intelligence). It is fairly easy to find professionals who possess one or the other, but much rarer—and more valuable—to find someone who possesses nearly equal measures of both. Do we design our systems, processes, and procedures with humans in mind? And do our managers and supervisors on the front lines actually understand and follow those same systems, processes, and procedures? If not, the root cause of that failure is most often leadership, not the worker.

As usual when it comes to principles, true authentic leadership is the catalyst and sustaining force that enables all of them. Being authentic means having integrity, being open and consistent in your behavior with others, being humble, of service to others, and leading with purpose. Think of this leadership as a combination of the wheel that holds the spokes together and the outer tire which keeps that wheel rolling.

In any field—and especially in safety and security—where there is often a gap between its importance from an external public perspective versus the internal professional perspective, getting this leadership right is critical to enabling strategic vision to translate into tactful execution on the ground.


Eric Roth, RSP, MIIRSM, is a former U.S. Marine who has more than 20 years of global experience in security and safety across the public and private sectors. He has operated in or traveled to every continent of the world, and he considers himself still learning. Roth is the President & Managing Director of his own firm, S-energy Consultants, and also serves as advisor on safety and security issues for major corporations.

© Eric Roth 2020. All rights reserved.