The February Security Management Highlights podcast features host Chuck Harold interviewing Basil Steele, long-time security engineer and leader at SANDIA National Labs, on the management and leadership tactics and traits that helped make him successful. The podcast is the first of a special series on management and leadership from the ASIS Mentoring Committee, a part of the Professional Development Council, and supports the content strategy ASIS International is using to build a body of knowledge around management and leadership in security.
Harold and Steele, both storytellers to the core, cover a lot of ground in the full 25-minute podcast. Here are some of the key takeaways:
To be a good manager and leader, never stop learning.
Steele: “I started out doing the technical work… and then I became a project lead. And let me tell you when you become a project lead and move away from the technical, there is a gap, and I had to start letting other people do work and manage them and manage the work through them.
“Right before I became a level one manager, I was part of this international training course where we went out and we taught foreign countries how to protect nuclear material and nuclear facilities. And in that training, the four-week class, I learned all aspects of physical security. There were some real things I had no idea when I was just focused on technical. What it meant to actually manage projects—cost, schedule, performance. What it meant to actually solve security problems from a risk analysis standpoint. So all of this critical learning came from that training course… If you want to learn something, stand in front of foreign nationals and… teach them the concepts [so that they] go back to their country understanding those concepts and how to apply them to their facilities.”
In teamwork, knowing how to communicate is important, as is a clear understanding of how a decision will be made.
Steele: “When you’re in leadership and management, communications skills become one of the most important things. In one of the classes I was taking, they talked about three basic communications that we do every time, every day, at home, at play, at work. And that is when you are communicating with people… you’re trying to get them to understand what you’re saying. … Once we understand what we’re talking about, we might move into a debate… Sooner or later, someone has to make a decision. …When they gave us those examples, they told us you better decide who owns that decision. Is it the boss? Are we going to vote and the majority rules? … How are we going to get out of that debate and make a decision—you [must] communicate that well.
Knowledge of security only gets you part of the way. You need to be able to understand and speak business.
Steele on what he would do differently: “I would probably go back and get my MBA. As I kept going into this career, [it] became apparent that to be a successful manager and understand how to [solve] security challenges you need to have a good business degree in your portfolio. I had a manager who I worked with, he was dual degree, he had an MBA and a mechanical engineering [degree], and the things that man could do—I was most impressed with. So I started learning more business skills as time went on. And today that’s almost paramount for anybody that is thinking about going into this field.”
To lead people, you must be able to connect with them on a personal level.
Steele: “Leadership is all about relationships. If I am going to lead people, I [can’t ask] them do things that I’m not willing to do. So from a leadership standpoint, how do you have the right skills so that people would want to follow you wherever you lead them? And there were a lot of classes I took on becoming a leader and those classes helped shape my skills. I used skills from home, I raised two kids. I used skills I had developed at church—there’s a variety of places you get these leadership skills that you can manage people and have the right relationship with them.
“…You have to do things to let people know you care about them. That was the secret to my success. My staff never doubted the fact that I cared about them and wanted them to be successful. You have to be sincere. People can see when you are sincere about leading them, or if you are just there to make money. If you’re just there to make money, they’re going to sniff that out in a minute, and you’re not going to be leading anybody.”