The New CISO Podcast Episode 59: Empowering People to Bring Their “Whole Self” to Work - Exabeam

The New CISO Podcast Episode 59: Empowering People to Bring Their “Whole Self” to Work

On today’s episode, we are joined by Azzam Zahir, Global Director of Insider Threat and Security at General Motors. He discusses his journey in becoming a leader in his field and what he has learned in that process.

Journey to Leadership

After finishing school, Azzam took it upon himself to seek opportunities and work extremely hard in any job assigned to him. His inquisitive mindset helped to forge his path. In 2007/2008 was when his title changed to being a leader. His strengths in managing with influence helped him to take on that leadership role. The transition to the role involved understanding the new responsibility of managing people.

His biggest fear going into the position was the fear of failing as a people leader. He worried about giving them the necessary time and attention to allow them to succeed. An unexpected challenge was the day to day management tasks.


How does Azzam review people and give them feedback? Contrary to the typical HR review process, he does it early and often. Don’t wait until a review period to give constructive feedback. This can eliminate some of the nervousness and help people to be more receptive to the feedback.

What cornerstones of leadership does Azzam expect? Leaders should allow people to be their individual selves and bring their uniqueness to the table. Let them do work that makes sense with the skills they already have.

Young Azzam

What advice would Azzam give to his younger self? One thing, which is challenging, is don’t chase the money. Focus on the career, not the jobs being offered to you. If the job doesn’t offer you great opportunities for career growth, reconsider taking it.

It is important to know how to leave a job if that is what you want. Receiving a counter to make you stay doesn’t fix the reasons why you wanted to leave the job. When young, it can be hard not to want things to go really fast.

Job Vs Career

How can you know the difference between a job and a career? Mentorship is really helpful with this. Have both an internal and external mentor. Your internal mentor will help you navigate politically within the organization and avoid pitfalls. Your external mentor has no association with the company so they can give outside perspective. The mix of the two insights provides a happy medium. The internal mentor will likely be more challenging to establish.

Diversity and Inclusion

Azzam presents an exercise that has benefits for diversity and inclusion. The exercise surrounds coming up with a short questionnaire. It asked things such as: Where did you grow up? How many languages do you speak? What is your educational background? They anonymously answered and mapped out the responses. You can watch people making assumptions of who they think answered. You can discover new similarities and discover people’s strengths in the differences. This is a great way to connect your teams and build trust/awareness.

Who to Look for in a Team

Look for active learners. The education you have is in the past. What are they still learning? You want a team that will continue to grow and evolve.

Being a New CISO

Azzam advises that the information is out there. Don’t sit around waiting for change. The CISO needs to be proactive in moving their teams towards the change versus reacting to it.

Read the transcript.

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