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
The following essay was submitted to the Berkeley MBA program by our client. The client was accepted to the program.
One of the most difficult situations I have ever had face during my tenure as VP of my company was the decision whether to fire Jane, an experienced employee, who I had worked with closely for two years. The decision arrived at my desk after a new CEO was appointed, and I became his VP, in charge of most employees. Together, we decided that we were going to transform our small and quiet company into a leading research firm with a target of 50% sales growth over the next 2 years. For that, we needed a devoted team that was committed to this goal.
This vision did not fit Jane. She left a large corporation where she worked long hours, and one of the main reasons she chose to join us was the laid back and relaxed atmosphere of a small company- exactly what we were determined to change. Although talented, she did only the minimum necessary, and was not willing to make any sacrifices and commit to our goal.
I faced a tough decision. On the one hand, firing a talented and experienced employee, in a time when most of the employees were new (as we wanted to drive growth we recruited new people), seemed unwise. In addition, I knew that our relationships with major clients might get hurt and a substantial knowledge base would be lost
On the other hand, not firing her would mean establishing double standards for our employees – most were required to work hard, whereas Jane was leaving early and refused to contribute extra efforts. Her opposition to the change had already begun creating undesired effects, as a few of the employees resented her.
In order to solve the problem, I tried to make Jane relate to the new goals and change her attitude. In addition, we also improved the company’s bonus program, based also on her comments, in order to reward the extra efforts. When all milder measures failed, I had to make a decision.
I decided to fire Jane. Although I knew that in the short run things would be difficult, I concluded there was no other way. I needed the most dedicated team possible, a team who was personally committed to the growth of the company. Jane, as head of a major division, would have undermined this effort in the long run.
Personally, making the decision was very hard. It meant firing someone with whom I had worked with closely for a long time. However, In terms of team spirit, matters improved greatly, and we succeeded in building the right team to lead the company forward. The new division head that replaced Jane was a highly motivated manager, and with her I had a team that could reach the ambitious goals we set, and indeed, in two years we have doubled the company’s project capacity, with a great improvement of research quality and customer satisfaction.