The topic of chief information security officer (CISO) burnout has been something I’ve wanted to write about for a while. It is something I speak about to CISOs around the world regularly. Even before COVID-19, CISOs had a stressful job. They were already dealing with bureaucracy, internal politics, lack of organizational support, and the constant feeling that they would be breach scapegoats.

Cue COVID-19, and a precarious situation for CISOs got more complex. Alongside their usual day-to-day, they now must: 1) anticipate a deluge of opportunistic attacks; 2) be pressured to potentially innovate or relax remote working policies; 3) worry about their own and their team’s job security; and 4) learn to manage and motivate their teams in a whole different dynamic.

As we all grapple with what this pandemic means to us personally and professionally, I wanted to get my thoughts out there in this latest research for our CISO clients. As I started interviewing and writing, I became conscious that it can apply to folks in any leadership position and even those who aren’t. Here were my key learnings:

  • Put your own oxygen mask on first. There is a productive level of stress where you’re energized and positively challenged by what you’re doing but not overwhelmed. During this pandemic, you will likely be working a million miles away from this level. Invest in self-care, exercise, healthy eating, and other activities to reach your ideal performance state; otherwise, you will pass your unproductive levels of stress on to your team
  • Lead with purpose. Understand and communicate the new business priorities. This will serve you and your team in aligning to this common purpose.
  • Communicate at the appropriate frequency, with empathy and clarity. As we are bombarded with news and messages from our political and business leaders, CEOs, managers, and others, we are feeling the impact of this communication more than ever before. Take New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, for example, who continues to display exceptional leadership skills, being heralded as an example to world leaders all over.
  • Vulnerability is a new superpower. At this time more than any other, your team will benefit a lot from seeing that you are human and that you are sharing the same experiences they are. This will create trust and give them the permission to be open with you.

With opinions divided as to whether everything will go back to “normal,” let alone the “when” of this normality, you need to plan for the post-COVID-19 world for yourself and your team. None of us know exactly what will happen and what challenges will be thrown our way. Start discussing these fears now, and brainstorm strategies for dealing with them. Psychological safety will be just as important as the physical safety of your team.