The New CISO Podcast: Empowering People to Bring Their “Whole Self” to Work - Exabeam

The New CISO Podcast: Empowering People to Bring Their “Whole Self” to Work

April 20, 2022


Reading time
5 mins

A key part of being a successful leader is ensuring that employees feel comfortable being their real selves — each person brings something unique to the workplace. In this episode of The New CISO podcast, Azzam Zahir, Global Director of Insider Threat and Security at General Motors, discusses the following: 

  • How to review people and give feedback 
  • The value of mentorship 
  • The importance of diversity and inclusion 
  • The types of people to look for in a team
  • Career tips for his younger self

After finishing school, Azzam took it upon himself to seek additional opportunities and go above and beyond in any job assigned to him. Around 2008, he was promoted to a leadership position. The transition to the role involved understanding the new responsibility of managing people. 

How to review people and give feedback 

Giving feedback can be uncomfortable, particularly for the person on the receiving end. To minimize awkwardness, Azzam advises, “We all know we shouldn’t wait until the review period to surprise one with some feedback that they hadn’t heard before because it just doesn’t work and makes it really awkward and contentious. People are already nervous going into it. So for me, I try to take the nervousness out of the room throughout the entire year. So, if I have an employee that is exhibiting some behavior that I know is going to come back to bite that particular employee, it’s a quick, ‘Hey, let me pull you to the side. Let me give you some quick feedback.’” 

 It’s important for leaders to allow people to be comfortable being themselves because each person is unique and will bring diverse skills to the table. “As far as the soft skills, the big thing I try to get the people leaders to see is that they need to allow people to be their individual selves,” says Azzam. “People are going to bring a certain uniqueness to the workplace that they may not see.” 

The value of mentorship 

Azzam knows the importance of finding a mentor to help develop your career. He suggests that one should have both an internal mentor within the organization as well as an external mentor, explaining, “The internal mentor can help you navigate politically within the organization. So they can help you avoid some pitfalls. The external mentor doesn’t have any association with the company — they don’t know the people, the players, et cetera. If you calibrate the feedback and the advice based on what you tell the internal and external mentor, for me, I landed in the best positions, relative to making the right decisions and moving the right way.” 

Creating bonds through diversity and inclusion 

Azzam uses an exercise to help create connections between people with diverse backgrounds. The exercise involves coming up with a short questionnaire, asking things such as “Where did you grow up? How many languages do you speak? What is your educational background?” Then, people anonymously answer and map out the responses. During this exercise, he sees people making assumptions about who they think answered, which enables people to discover new similarities and differences between them. This is a great way to build relationships within teams and build trust and awareness. 

After the exercise, Azzam says, “One of the things that I saw happen was people that were not normally connected, all of a sudden were having coffee breaks together. And so it changed the dynamic of the team from my perspective at least, where walls just started to tear down almost immediately after that session.” 

Qualities CISOs should look for when hiring for their teams

When recruiting and hiring, Azzam advises CISOs to look for active learners. The candidate’s formal training and education are in the past, but what are they still learning? You want a team that will continue to grow and evolve. Azzam advises that when hiring new team members, “Look at their resume and say, ‘Has this person worked on the building blocks of a career?’ Because if they’ve worked on a career, they’ve really been challenged with the roles that they’ve had, versus job to job, doing the same thing over and over and over and over. It’s completely different.” 

Career tips to his younger self

What advice would Azzam give to his younger self? Azzam stresses the importance of focusing holistically on your career rather than the individual jobs being offered to you. If the job doesn’t offer you great opportunities for career growth, reconsider taking it. “Don’t chase the money, and typically, it’s not a whole lot of money when you move from job to job,” says Azzam. “And really focus on the career, not the jobs that are being offered to you. If the job does not offer you a great career opportunity relative to growth, then probably second guess it.”

As a CISO, allowing each person to feel comfortable being themselves will create an environment where employees thrive. Use the tips Azzam provided on how to give people feedback, the value of mentorship, the importance of diversity and inclusion, the types of people to look for in a team, and his career tips to become the best CISO you can be.

Listen to the Podcast

To learn more about demonstrating the value of your cybersecurity program, listen to the full episode or read the transcript.

Empowering People to Bring Their “Whole Self” to Work

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