Adam Caudill

Security Engineer, Researcher, & Developer

Taking Responsibility for the Spotlight

On sharing the spotlight with those that need the opportunity more

Today, something happened that made me think carefully about my platform, my time in the spotlight, and how to best leverage my position to help others. Hopefully, you’ll find this to be thought-provoking and consider your own position and how it can be used.

Your Platform & Your Responsibility #

As a leader, there’s an undeniable responsibility to help others. This may mean being a mentor to someone just joining the industry, or giving opportunities to someone that would otherwise not get the break they need. As someone that’s been fortunate enough to earn leadership roles and something of a reputation in the field, I’m keenly aware of the responsibilities on my shoulders.

There are many things expected of those in positions of power, being a wise leader, compassionate and protective, leveraging the position to help others instead of greed and attention. But, unfortunately, so many that have built a name have become consumed by their ego, and lost sight of their responsibilities to the community and the world.

Understanding Your Platform & Power #

Be it in professional or social venues, there is an undeniable influence that comes with the exposure of being known or having an important title. This platform can be ignored, sitting dormant and benefitting none, it can be abused to cause harm, it can be used to boost one’s ego or bank account. However, that platform can also be used to help others, drawing attention to causes that matter, to people who deserve to be heard, lift others up, and give them a chance.

An idle word by some can make or break a career, or even make or break a person.

The platform we each have can be a tool for good or evil; it’s up to us to understand our influence and how to best use it.

A Case Study: The Manager Looking for Brides #

A dear friend of mine, who passed away far too soon, once shared a story from early in her career that she had never shared publicly. Hopefully, she wouldn’t mind me telling it here.

She worked as a developer for a government agency, one of the few that are often seen as a goal to work for; a place kids aspire to build a career at. She was very good at her job (she was one of the most brilliant people I ever met), and her performance reviews reflected the value she added. When she was eligible for a promotion, she had every reason to believe she would get it. However, when she met with her manager to talk about it, not only was she passed over, he made her question all of her decisions and questioned her own value.

He explained that she not only didn’t get the promotion, but she wouldn’t be getting one in the future. It had nothing to do with her technical ability, soft skills, or anything else. It had to do with the reason he had hired her in the first place.

You see, this manager firmly believed that a woman’s place was at home, waiting on her husband. The only things he thought a woman should do is take care of her husband’s house and carry his babies.

The office she worked in was in the middle of nowhere, and people found very few reasons to stay — especially younger men. Unless they had settled down with a family, that is. This manager had developed a strategy to keep his male developers from moving away to better jobs, hire young & attractive women, and hope they would turn into brides.

She was hired for the sole purpose of being an anchor, to keep a man from moving away. Not for her intellect, ability, knowledge, but her looks and ability to bear children.

In a two-minute conversation, he broke her spirit, her hope for the future, her career goals, and her belief in herself. Words from those in a position of power can be devastatingly powerful.

The Event #

During a meeting to discuss an upcoming webinar, I was asked if I would be the only speaker; my photo and bio would be posted, I would be the one on camera, it would promote my name just a little bit more. This isn’t anything new for me; I’ve been working to build a name in the field for years, establishing myself as a trustworthy source of information and insight. But an important thought ran through my mind before I could answer the question.

It wasn’t a question of who could do it better (I’m sure anyone involved would do great), or how to best leverage just a bit more exposure for myself, or who would enjoy it more; none of these crossed my mind. Instead, it was a question of who would be best served by more time in the spotlight.

I’ve tried to help everyone I can; I’ve tried to be fair, compassionate, I’m a fierce protector of my team, I listen to the experts on my team — though I’m not sure now, looking back, that I’ve done as much as I could to share the spotlight.

For those newer to the field, those less represented, those that too often feel they are alone in this industry, the spotlight can be important to building their own name, and showing others that there is room for them too. Three women on the team volunteered to help with the project; I don’t need the spotlight, but it could have far more impact for them.

The last thing the world needs is yet another webinar led by a relatively stereotypical boring white security guy — what is needed is for those less represented to be given a chance to get ahead, build their name, and show others that there’s room & opportunities. In a split second, I could claim this particular spotlight for myself, share it with others, or hand it to them, so it’s their own.

I handed it to them, so they are front & center.

Sharing the Spotlight #

As leaders, we have many of these decisions to make, simple things that can make a massive difference to those we work with. When we look for them, look for chances to elevate others, there’s no shortage of opportunities or people that deserve them. What we do lack, as an industry, is enough people that are keeping their eyes open and leveraging their position to lift instead of belittling.

Looking for opportunities to place someone else in the spotlight comes at no harm to leaders, and helps to create future leaders. This isn’t some substantial sacrifice as would seem from the number of people that don’t even try; it’s just a matter of awareness of your position and ability to impact others positively. Unfortunately, this awareness of impact, both of words and actions, is missing more often than it should 1.

To be a great leader, you have to lift everyone up, give them the chance to grow, the opportunity to be better. If you do your job right, you’ll create leaders that are better than you; that’s not a failure on your part, it’s success, it means the future will be better.

We all have obligations to others and the future. We all have a duty to leave the world better than we found it.

  1. I recently wrote about the unintentional impact of words in “Communicating With Respect” — it’s too common for a person to misinterpret something that is said due to issues with communication style and tone. ↩︎

Adam Caudill

Related Posts

  • Leading Experts

    A friend of mine recently asked for my thoughts on leading people who have more experience or expertise in a topic than they do; this is an important question and one that I felt deserved more thought and exploration. Leading people can be difficult, but when leading people that know more than you do about a given topic, it’s a different challenge. This was particularly well-timed, as I’ve found myself in just that situation, as I’ve just hired a specialist in incident response.

  • Communicating With Respect

    Communication can be a real challenge; working across cultures, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives can result in different interpretations — and this is under the best of circumstances. However, when it’s written communication, the challenge is multiplied due to the lack of feedback cues from facial expressions, body language, and the like. These challenges make it exceedingly easy to create a situation where what a person hears is entirely different from what the speaker (or writer) intended.

  • Crew Resource Management for Security Teams

    Over the last year or so, I’ve become quite a fan of Air Disasters, a television show dedicated to analyzing plane crashes and similar incidents. As I watched the show, I started seeing many ways that the lessons and procedures around aircraft safety also apply to running a security team; this valuable and hard-won wisdom, often born out of tragedy, can be of significant impact if appropriately applied. In this article, I will explore Crew Resource Management and how it can be applied to Information Security to make teams run better.

  • Utopia Found; Utopia Lost

    Sometime in the 1990’s I used a 2400-baud modem and connected to the internet for the first time; I found a new world, a better world. A world where ideas and intellect set people apart, not skin color, or political affiliation, of even the pseudo-scandal of the day (which is probably just a disguise for ignorance and intolerance). It was a time of invention, in a world where everything was new and the potential was unlimited.

  • On Software Subscriptions

    Like many in this field, I am always looking for ways to improve my workflow, improve my productivity, achieve more. Part of this is evaluating new tools that help me get work done, tools that become critical to my process. While looking at something that could be useful, I had a startling realization — but there are a couple of things I’d like to cover first. Supporting What You Love I always try to pay for things that make my life better and support businesses that give me real value.