Message from the CISA Director: My Leadership Philosophy
By: Jen Easterly, Director, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency
As I have mentioned since arriving at CISA, my priorities are to empower our PEOPLE and build our CULTURE. Shortly, we will launch our efforts around building culture and leveraging our workforce Ambassadors across CISA’s Divisions and Mission Support Teams. To inform those efforts, I am sharing some of the core principles that I’ve strived to live by over the course of my career to give you a sense of my leadership philosophy. I want you to know what’s important to me, what you can expect from me, and what I will expect from you.
- People, People, People: No asset is more important to this organization than our people. Continuing to attract and retain world-class talent is foundational to mission success and a culture of excellence. This means creating an environment of psychological safety, where people feel like they can be their authentic self; where they feel cared for, supported, empowered, and always treated with dignity and respect; where they feel a sense of ownership for mission; and where they welcome accountability and responsibility for their actions. Creating a vibrant talent management ecosystem—from recruiting and hiring to onboarding and integration, training and certification, recognition and promotion, succession planning and retention—will be a top priority of mine.
- Team First: In my view, the best path to individual career success is putting others first. Selflessness is not about sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others; it’s about realizing that the only way to create our own success is to broaden our focus and drive results for everyone through collaboration and teamwork. The goal is not about becoming a star; it’s about building a constellation. This focus on others is particularly important to those with leadership responsibilities. When we as leaders put our people first—obsessing about their growth, development, and well-being—we ensure our own success and the success of our team.
- Lead with Empathy: I believe that emotional intelligence, optimism, and authenticity are the superpowers that distinguish a truly great leader. I believe in leading by example and leading by the “Platinum Rule” to treat others as they would like to be treated. Of course, this means investing time in getting to know people; understanding their backgrounds, goals and motivations; and understanding the incentives that drive them. I strive to listen more than I talk, to assume noble intent, and to show patience and kindness. I also strive to handle conflict with humor and grace, and to put myself in the shoes of others to build connection and trust.
- Non-negotiables: Integrity, honesty, teamwork, and sound judgment are table stakes for our team. Those characteristics are particularly critical since our mission can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. If you’re not kind or helpful, if you believe in putting yourself first, if you believe that information is power, if you insist on being the smartest person in the room at the expense of others, if you’re unencumbered by self-doubt or unburdened by emotional intelligence, regardless of how talented you may be, this is likely not the place for you. I will not tolerate dishonesty or treating people poorly or with disrespect.
- Foster Belonging, Diversity, and Inclusion: I strongly believe that individual and cultural differences are a defining strength. I also believe that all teammates deserve a work environment where they feel safe and welcome at a minimum, but ideally celebrated and cherished for who they are and what they can contribute based on their diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and unique challenges. This puts an important premium on realizing our inherent biases and working together to create an equal and just environment, which will include investing the time attracting, developing, and retaining talent that reflects the full diversity of our society.
- Seek and Honestly Provide Feedback: Achieving success requires self-awareness and the humility to continuously seek self-improvement, regardless of position, tenure, or seniority. I believe in striving every day to become a better human, aggressively seeking feedback and treating it as a gift. I also give feedback authentically, thoughtfully, and constructively. We can make each other better every single day, and we owe it to each other to do so.
- Communicate to Create Awareness and Trust: I believe strongly in the importance of creating shared situational awareness up, down, and across teams. This is especially critical in our agency given the mission interdependencies and the matrixed nature of our organizational structure. Great teams trust each other with information and behave in a manner worthy of that trust. Great teams communicate with purpose and clarity. This is particularly important in how we communicate to our partners, who must understand our intent, our vision, and the value that we bring. Every communication with a stakeholder is an opportunity to tell a compelling story and build trust.
- Failure and Resilience: A worthy cause is worth doing well and takes effort, in all things personal or professional. This sometimes means taking risks, making tough calls, and trying something new. And sometimes it means failing. If we go through our lives constantly worried that we might make mistakes or fail, we won’t live up to our potential. This doesn’t mean we should take uncalculated risks, make poor decisions, or repeatedly make the same mistakes. It means that we shouldn’t fear the prospect of failure, but rather view it as a learning opportunity. In many ways, recognizing and accounting for failure is at the core of our mission of ensuring resilience. Remember that even as we strive to prevent failure, we must plan for it, prepare for it, know how to respond to it, recover from it—and again, learn from it.
- Make Every Day Count: While the vast majority of us want to work to live, not live to work, the truth is that we spend most of our adult lives working. That’s why it’s important to love what you do, to like who you do it with, to feel that you are valued, and to know that you’re making an impact. It’s up to each of us to create this culture of impact. Where we embrace our mission and take ownership for our actions and behaviors to effect positive change. Where we take the initiative to recognize problems and work together to solve them. Where we take the time to show gratitude for work well done. Making it count also means ensuring that we have balance in our life, because burn out is a real thing. We must ensure that we are tending to our physical and mental health; taking vacation; and spending time with friends and family to rest and recharge, intellectually, physically, and emotionally.
We’ll have more time to talk about leadership, culture, and priorities over the coming weeks. In the meantime, I am humbled and honored to have the privilege to serve with each of you and look forward to getting to know you. Thank you for all that you do to keep our nation safe, secure, and resilient.