How Government Leaders Can Stay Ahead of Security Threats

government leaders security threats

Since 9-11, there have been 156 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, according to data from And though our country is safer today due to enhanced security measures, new threats arise every day.

Rapidly evolving technology only underscores this critical need to stay ahead of the curve. Gartner estimates cyber security spending will top $113 billion by 2020, and that number will continue to climb.

But, ‘staying ahead of the curve’ is a big challenge when dealing with safety and security in an unpredictable environment. And few people understand this better than Mike O’Neil, a 22- year veteran of the New York City Police Department and the first Commanding Officer of the NYPD Counterterrorism Division.

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What Escaping a Taco Bell Brawl Taught Me About Self-Awareness

leadership self-awareness

Back in my college days at Purdue University, my friends and I were winding down a fairly mundane night of painting the town red. We decided to cap things off with a trip to Taco Bell. Rather than peacefully wait for his burrito, my quite inebriated friend decided to pick a fight with some fellow diners.

This already might seem like a bad idea, but it gets worse: His targets were three offensive linemen from the Purdue football team. It’s important to note this exchange happened during the Drew Brees era at Purdue, so these guys were absolute beasts—all surpassing 6 feet and 300 pounds. Although the only outcome I could see involved a trip to the hospital, my overconfident friend kept trying to take a swing at these powerhouses.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed. We managed to get our burritos and escape unscathed. My friend clearly had a bad case of hubris, along with an overestimation of my ability to take “the smaller guy.” What I couldn’t foresee was how this near-death experience would serve as an important reference point as I developed my leadership skills.

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To Grow Leadership Skills, Get People Out of Their Comfort Zones

grow leadership skills

When I worked in the outdoor industry, I saw a lot of leaders forced out of their comfort zones. To survive in the backcountry, they had to use their physical and mental strength, keep an open mind, and rely on those around them for support.

Some fared better than others, and I found people’s individual identities and corporate positions didn’t determine their levels of success. Anyone could grow as a person and leader during a backcountry excursion, but only if he or she was willing to embrace the discomfort that accompanied the transformation — and you can do the same.

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Are They Employees or Widgets? The Results of People-as-Commodity Cultures

employees are more than commodities

Newsflash: People aren’t possessions. So why do we insist on treating workers like commodities?

Once upon a time, employees and companies enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. Workers stayed with one company for their entire careers, taking pride in their output and putting their noses to the grindstone for the sake of the organization. In return, companies offered pension plans, training, development opportunities, and reasonable work hours.

While those days might seem like distant memories, the churn-and-burn mentality of the modern workplace isn’t sustainable.

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Considering a Mass Layoff? You Might Be a Knuckle-Dragger

Considering a Mass Layoff? You Might Be a Knuckle-Dragger

It amazes me how many executives are knuckle-draggers. A knuckle-dragger, for purposes of this conversation, is someone who is unintelligent (or makes unintelligent decisions) and is stuck in the past, promoting and using antiquated and ineffective methods.

This is the person who is still wandering out of his/her cave with a club in search of something to knock in the head and eat for dinner. There isn’t a lot of thought that goes into a knuckle-dragger’s actions. In an office environment, it is the executive that screams at people when they make mistakes. Or a C-Suite that performs mass layoffs.

Yep, I said it. If you do mass layoffs, you are a knuckle-dragger.

According to CNBC, in January of this year, layoffs surged to a 6 month high. Over 75,000 planned job cuts by US-based companies were announced last month. That’s 200% more than December, and 42% higher than this time last year. Two of the major contributors are Wal-Mart and Macy’s, cutting 16,000 and 4,820 respectively.

People try to justify mass layoffs by talking about the good of the company, looking out for shareholders, blah, blah, blah. Here’s what they don’t tell you: They are laying off people because of their failure. Simply put, most executives rely on mass layoffs to compensate for their inability to lead properly and make the right decisions.

A great example is Al Dunlap, aka “Chainsaw Al.” He was famous for downsizing. Everyone thought his methods caused companies to become successful by “cutting the fat.” However, what people didn’t realize was his turnarounds were elaborate frauds. When Sunbeam brought him in to solve their financial issues, he downsized. Sunbeam went bankrupt, and he was caught trying to engineer an accounting scandal.

The Myths and Realities of Mass Layoffs

The simple truth is that downsizing and mass layoffs are BAD for your company. They will give you an uptick in profits at the end of the year if done at the proper time, but they are not a viable long term solution. In fact, in the long term they are detrimental to the sustainability of your company. Here are four myths and realities about layoffs:

Improving Productivity

Downsizing and mass layoffs are thought to improve the productivity of the organization. It supposedly motivates employees (which we will talk about later), consolidates resources, and makes the organization leaner.

But the simple truth is that organizations aren’t any more productive after a mass layoff than they were before it. The budget sheet looks better because there are less expenses, but productivity doesn’t increase. In fact, studies show you are likely to see a drop in productivity in the short and long term. Here’s why: When an organization has a mass layoff, they usually don’t determine who are the talent players (often because the people making the decision have no idea who they are laying off). So they choose some metric, and get rid of people using that.

Because they are only measuring performance based on a single factor, they get rid of both talented and untalented employees. The result is a smaller workforce, not a more productive one. Often mass layoffs cause employees to look for work elsewhere. Would you want to work where you could get laid off any minute? Usually, the better employees get hired at other places and leave. Once this happens, the level of talent at your organization actually decreases.

Motivating the Workforce

Downsizing and mass layoffs are thought by some to motivate employees. They don’t motivate, they distract. Think about it. When a company has a mass layoff, it causes widespread uncertainty and fear. Every employee wonders if they are the next to go. While they might work a bit harder for a short time, they are constantly worried about losing their job.

At best, mass layoffs motivate your most talented employees to look for jobs elsewhere.

Solving Financial Issues

Many people think mass layoffs will solve an organization’s financial problems. But rather than actually solving the problem that caused the budget shortfall, layoffs are usually used to offset it. An organization fires a large amount of people to help their budget and then, as things seem to get better, they hire all these people back until they are in the same spot they were in to begin with. 3-5 years later, they have to have another mass layoff. The cycle repeats itself.

In addition, studies show that layoffs actually drag down a company’s stock value.

Making the Company Stronger

There is this perception that mass layoffs make companies stronger. They don’t. Usually, its because they don’t solve the root of the problem. The problems might even be making the layoff decisions.

Other than some major external factors shifting without warning, the failures that lead to a mass layoff are the responsibility of the C-Suite. And in the end, it is the failure of company leadership that causes mass layoffs. Sadly, they often don’t see it and aren’t held accountable. Instead, they hold others accountable for their failure in leadership and decision making.

Are You a Knuckle-Dragger?

Considering a Mass Layoff? You Might Be a Knuckle-DraggerIt saddens me how many executives think mass layoffs are a viable option. To be fair, in some rare cases they are, but not usually. Yet, we have created a business culture that says it is just another way of doing business. But the ways of doing business are changing, and mass layoffs are more of a detriment to your organization than ever before.

Think about millennials, for example. We constantly hear companies complain that the millennials don’t want to work for them, or are more concerned with personal gain than their loyalty to the company. I’ve heard many business executives shake their heads, tsk and complain about this behavior. Guess what, knuckle-draggers? You caused it. Who’d want to be loyal to a company when mass layoffs are a just another way of doing business?

Financially, layoffs reduce stock prices. They reduce productivity and cause a need for payouts in severance, plus the cost of rehiring employees as business improves. They cause a burden on the tax payers because of the increase in unemployment recipients. They make people wary of working there, have a severe negative effect on employee health, and often leave the organization with a less capable workforce in the long run.

So, with the overwhelming amount of evidence about the detrimental effects of mass layoffs, why do they still do it? How do we get the knuckle-draggers to put down the clubs, become leaders, and make better decisions?

You Don’t Know What Leadership Is

what is leadership?

You don’t know what leadership is.

It is a bold statement for me to make. One to which your response is probably an emphatic, “Yes I do.” Maybe even with an exclamation point.

However, when I respond by asking, “what is it?”, almost everyone struggles to articulate what leadership is. I contend that if you can’t articulate it, you don’t know what it is.

Some of you will argue that you can articulate what leadership is. You may even eloquently define it for me in simple or complex terms with a big “I got you grin”.

You may think you know what leadership is. However, how you define leadership is not how others define it. In fact, regardless of your definition, I bet I can find tens of thousands of people who will dispute it and tell you why you are wrong (and the response of, “yes, but I am right,” only works for my wife).

Is There One Definition Of Leadership?

There have been many brilliant minds over the years that have pontificated, defined, researched, and written about leadership. Some from an academic background like Stogdil and Mann from the mid 1900’s and some with practical backgrounds like Greenleaf and Patton.

These approaches often create dichotomies when defining leadership. One is that leaders are either born or made, though most of the recent research supports the idea that leaders can, in fact, be made. Another dichotomy is that the approaches tend to either focus on the leader or on the leader’s relationship with his/her followers. However, regardless of the focus, none of them have come up with, or agreed upon a satisfactory definition of leadership.

In the article “An Integrative Definition of Leadership”, Winston and Patterson reviewed over 160 articles and books on leadership and narrowed it down to 90 variables. Their “short” definition was over a page long and people still dispute it.

One of the problems we face in defining leadership is that the concept seems simple. And at one point in our history it was fairly simple: There was a person who was a leader by birthright or some sort of trait and people followed them because they were the leader.

Even today in certain environments leadership seems fairly simple. Take for example an enlisted soldier. Most people think of soldiers as they were in WWII. The soldier was trained to follow orders. Those of superior rank knew more and were better equipped to make decision. The enlisted men were followers, were given orders, and expected to follow them without question. Most people think this is how the military operates today, and to some extent it does. If you are a Corporal in firefight and the Sergeant tells you to move your ass, you do. However, with the dynamic environment soldiers face on today’s battlefield, even the Army is changing how it trains its soldiers.

The Army now wants soldiers to think and make decisions on the battlefield to a much greater degree than they did even 20 years ago. Now these followers are contributing to solutions. Leadership, even in the military, has been changing.

So, when I say, “you don’t know what leadership is,” I do not do so lightly. None of us really know what leadership is.

Rethinking the Source of Leadership

Leadership is an evolving concept that has become much more confusing than it used to be. I think the problem is based on the methods we use to try to define it. Since leadership is continuously evolving, so must our way of trying to understand it.

Instead of trying to define leadership, we should examine how we know when leadership occurs. Most of us, though we can’t truly define leadership, know when it occurs. And if we can figure out when leadership occurs, we get closer to understanding it.

So, how do we know when leadership occurs? I have only read one author who takes this approach to understanding leadership (though it is entirely possible that others have and I have not read their work). In the book, The Deep Blue Sea: Rethinking the Source of Leadership, Wilfred Drath from the Center for Creative Leadership approaches leadership not as something that exists on its own, but rather something that exists because we decide it exists. When you define leadership in your own way you are deciding it exists, while others who disagree with your definition might decide it does not.

Leadership does not exist independently of our perceptions. It exists exclusively because of our perceptions.

So, if leadership exists only in our perceptions, how do we know when it occurs?

Essentially, we can create what Drath calls knowledge principles, which are ideas or rules that are taken for granted to be true. These are shared creations of the people interacting together, rather than just one person’s perceptions. We use these to determine if leadership exists.

Since these knowledge principles are taken for granted to be true, Leadership’s existence becomes about what is meaningful to people as leadership. Because these knowledge principles are meaningful as leadership to people, they can say with certainty that leadership is happening for their group.

Leadership is what the group comes to understand it to be. There is no debate like there is when we try to define leadership. The group knows leadership is happening and becomes objective and not subjective.

So, from your group’s perspective, how do you know when leadership is happening?