Application Essay Guidelines
We aspire to develop engineers and managers who can be leaders in our industry. To help ground so broad a term, the Past President of the SANS Technology Institute, Stephen Northcutt, wrote a Leadership Essay to help characterize and expand upon our definition of leadership. Please read his essay and explore some of the resources he suggests. Then, write two to three single-spaced pages in your own words about your own preferred definition(s) of leadership, some competencies where you believe you have strengths, and also the competencies you would most like to develop. Relate each competency to personal and/or professional experience, or discuss how you intend to use the master's program and your work experience over the next three years to further your leadership goals. Include a discussion of why 'leadership', rather than just 'engineering' or 'management', is particularly important in the information security field at this time.
By Stephen Northcutt
AbstractLeadership is a broad term, open to interpretation. However, it is the core focus of the SANS Technology Institute's mission. The purpose of this essay is to define what we mean by leadership, express the core compencies you will be exposed to in the program, and discuss what leadership means in the context of information security.
Definition of Leadership
A leader is a person who guides or inspires others within an organization or community to achieve a goal. Leadership development begins with the simple realization that you want to be a leader. Life has many opportunities to press forward and take charge of a situation, or conversely, to shrink into the background. This is why we ask prospective students to write an essay about demonstrated leadership when they apply to our school.
Leadership and Competencies
What does leadership mean, how do you measure leadership? One approach is through management and leadership competencies. We define competencies as measurable skills, knowledge, and abilities that identify successful managers in the information security discipline. In your graduate program, you will be exposed to core competencies. They are covered in your required course, ISE 5600: IT Security Leadership Competencies or ISM 5400: IT Security Planning, Policy, and Leadership. Some of the competencies that you will be taught are reinforced by specific course work and exercises:
- Team Development and Relationship Building: This will occur when you attend a SANS conference and interact with fellow students, and as a result of both of your group projects.
- Importance of Communication: The presentation skills course, ISE/ISM 5000 (SANS MGT 305), will help you develop your oral and written communication skills.
- Self-Direction: We will monitor your progress throughout the program, but it will be up to you to register for and complete courses within the allowed time at a proper level of quality.
- Coaching and Training: One of your final degree requirements will be to teach a Security Awareness course in your own community.
- Leadership Qualities: The faculty you will work with are leaders in the field of information security. Look to them to model leadership in the information security field.
- Vision Development: As a graduate student, you will be required to present original, creative work through the research papers.
- Project Planning: You will learn about Project Management Planning in ISE/ISM 5800 (SANS MGT 525) and a project plan is a requirement of one of the group projects.
Other competencies listed below will be taught in your required courses:
- Conflict Resolution
- Employee Involvement
- Change Management
- Motivation of Employees and Teammates
- Leadership Development
- Leading Tribes
- Leading Change
Two competencies are more important than all the others. How does a leader guide or inspire? They have to be great communicators. Therefore, two of the most important skills you will work on are:
- Ability to communicate well orally
- Ability to communicate well in writing
Leaders in information assurance often have different goals. Some leadership roles in information security are similar to other disciplines, others are unique. A few examples of security leadership roles are listed below:
- Manager, team leader or project manager
- The technical "go to" person
- Thought leader, often through writing and speaking
- Instructor, mentor
- Tribe leader, someone that can build a large following to accomplish a goal
- Change Agent, someone who uses their thought leadership position to alter the way we look at technology or process
- Technical tool author who creates or leads the team that develops a security tool whether open source or commercial
What is the difference between a manager and a leader? A successful leader needs all of the same competencies as a manager, but some of the competencies must be more developed. For instance, vision. You can be a successful manager with a minimal capability for vision. In fact, that is something Human Resources may look for in an industry that is based on repeatable tasks. However, you cannot lead without vision. The Security Thought Leaders interview series introduces a number of visionary leaders in the information assurance industry. In addition, you must have power beyond your positional power, the authority that comes with your role or job description. For many students in the MSISE program, this will lead to something called expert power  people will want to be on your team partly because of your knowledge of technical security. Our goal is for you to be able to work at the highest technical level in your organization. The students in the MSISM program will also receive courses and assignments to develop expert power, people will want to work with you because they feel that you have both programmatic skills and a strong understanding of technical issues. They will look for you to be a bridge between management and technical groups in your organization.
Senior Leadership and Statesmanship
One reason to start focusing on your leadership skills today is that leadership is learned over years, not months. The best way to become a senior leader is by studying competencies and having the discipline to make them become habits and tools in your life. We can define a senior leader as someone who attains a highly respected rank, examples include:
- CEO, CTO, CSO, CISO
- Board member, Chairman of the Board
- President, Vice President
- Bishop, Cardinal
- Mayor, Senator, Representative
Perhaps the highest level of leadership is the statesman, a respected leader in national or international affairs, a person that devotes some or all of their energy to public service and to improve the common good. They have mastered the management, leadership and governance competencies and use the experience from a long and respected career to benefit others.
References1.http://resource.udallas.edu/132/bases_of_social_power.pdf link was visited 9/14/2011
Leadership Essay Version 1.8
Other Related Articles in Leadership Lab: Management Competencies
- Leadership Essay - Feb 7th, 2012
What Makes a Good Leader
There are many different styles of leadership and the majority of them are very effective, but despite these different approaches, all good leaders share a handful of characteristics. So, what are these qualities that make a good leader? We are going to take a closer look at some of them including good communication, the ability to delegate and a strong level of commitment to see how these qualities can help to make someone a good leader.
One of the most important characteristics of a good leader is that they need to actually be prepared to lead. This sounds like something that should go without saying, but it is surprising just how many people who are in a leadership role are not prepared to take an active role in leading their team. A good leader does not sit back and observe what is going on, but rather they should be the one making the decisions and making sure that the rest of the team sees them through. You must have the self-confidence to stand by such decisions when you are sure that you are right. However, if you do happen to be wrong you must also own your mistakes and come up with an alternative plan in the event of failure. Your subordinates should be comfortable looking to you for guidance and for that to happen you must take an active role in leadership.
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While it is important for leaders to be hands on and have an active role in leadership, a good leader must also know when to delegate! It is essential that you are able to trust your team to execute your vision. This means allowing them to get involved with various aspects of your plans. Delegating tasks to other people or departments is a very important skill for a leader to have. In order to delegate effectively, you must be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of those on your team so that you can allocated tasks accordingly. This will free up your own time for higher level tasks.
The best leaders are also those who excel when it comes to communication. It is essential for a leader to be able to communicate effectively with everyone on the team at all times. You need to be able to think things through and consider what information is available to others on your team. Are you providing them with all of the relevant information that is needed to accomplish the tasks that they have been set? A good leader must also make sure that he or she not only communicates the appropriate information to the team, but also that everyone understands it. Great leaders are able to communicate in a way that others can engage with. This makes it easier for others to understand what you are saying and to remember it! When your team has a clear understanding not only of the end goal, but also how to achieve it, you will find that your efforts run much more smoothly.
A good leader must also show a commitment to his or her team. You cannot expect to motivate others to put in their best efforts if you yourself are not leading by example. The best motivation for many people is seeing their boss right there working just as hard as everyone else. This demonstrates your commitment to your team and is a sure fire way to inspire their loyalty. It is great if you can not only prove that you work hard, but also that you are fair and do not expect anything of your team that you are not willing to do yourself! A positive attitude will also go a long way to showing your commitment to your role as a leader.
In conclusion, there are many different characteristics that make a good leader. There are a variety of different approaches to leadership, but those who succeed in their leadership role are very likely to exhibit the characteristics that we have discussed her. A good leader has commitment and a positive attitude, knows how to delegate, can communicate effectively and is prepared to actively lead a team.