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5 key traits of highly effective CISOs

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In businesses across the globe, an explosion of connectivity has massively expanded digital footprints. Intellectual property, customer data and brand equity are now wrapped up in the digital world. This has afforded businesses new opportunities, but has also transformed them into targets for information theft, which directly affects business performance and shareholder value.

Although security teams and Chief Information Security Officers are receiving more support than ever before, the CISO is now expected to serve as the data guardian, the technologist, the strategist and the business advisor. Given the multiple hats, is your CISO (or are you) a highly effective top performer and how can your CISO improve further when it comes to managing business risk?

5 key traits of highly effective CISOs

Certain mentalities, behavioral patterns, and modus operandi distinguish top performers from lower performing counterparts; a reality that manifests in any competitive environment, whether in sports, in academia or in other realms of the business ecosystem. Each of the following are 2X more prevalent in top performing CISOs as compared with lower performing CISOs, on average, according to analysts.

Initiating discussions on evolving industry issues to stay ahead of threats. Executing on this means taking a proactive approach to threat management, connecting with stakeholders and capably speaking the language of business.
Making stakeholders aware of current and possible future risks to the enterprise. Fostering an environment of risk awareness builds credibility and accountability. A successful CISO provides stakeholders with metrics and never sugar coats the truth.
Proactively securing emerging technologies. CISOs who focus on emerging risks become key drivers in the journey to security maturity and in achieving organizational security objectives.
Retaining a formal and actionable succession plan. Great CISOs align their planning with the needs, mission and ambitions of the larger organization and make plans known to others.
Defining risk appetite via collaboration with senior business decision-makers. Two out of three top-performing CISOs meet with business leaders at least once per month. In so doing, top CISOs manage to carefully balance security needs against business needs.

Stress management

Survey results reveal that highly effective CISOs excel at managing workplace stressors. A mere 27% of top performing CISOs feel bombarded with security alerts, compared with over 60% of bottom performers.

To help CISOs function at a higher level, CISOs need to keep a clear boundary between work and non-work, set expectations with stakeholders, and automate security tasks where possible. Highly stressed CISOs are more prone to making mistakes, leaving for new opportunities, or moving a company towards a security incident.

Other success factors

For a CISO, staying relevant and ready for action means embracing a business mindset. While the newly emerging BISO role is eliminating some pressure, a business mindset can assist a CISO in connecting with colleagues outside of the tech teams, and it enables high-level business-focused conversations. CISOs wall themselves into a garden if they’re only able to interact with colleagues on a technical level.

Understanding and prioritizing stakeholder agendas and goals will expand meaningful and productive projects, opportunities and potential for positive impact.

The importance of team

CISO success also depends on the team surrounding the CISO. A strong CISO will not be afraid to hire people who are more technically talented than they are. Rather, a strong CISO will fill the team with great, results-focused, driven-to-deliver employees. Afterwards, puzzle pieces will fall into place, and organizations will likely see desirable outcomes.

Looking to 2023

By 2023, 30% of a CISO’s effectiveness will also be measured based on his/her ability to generate value for the business. Perceiving and communicating risk in terms of how it can provide a competitive advantage, lead to business growth, and result in revenue expansion will see a CISO through on a path towards future success.

For more information about highly effective CISOs, see CyberTalk.org’s past coverage. Lastly, to receive more relevant cyber security insights, real-world case-studies and cutting-edge analyses, please sign up for the cybertalk.org newsletter.

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