Preventing Leaks Through Better Relationships

Cleared Recruiting

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You’ve assembled your team, the machine is running smoothly, the clients are happy, the customers ecstatic, what could go wrong?  Everything.  Especially if one of your trusted employees breaks trust. How you manage and lead those employees is of paramount import. Preventing leaks is one of the most critical jobs any government contractor as, and how you exercise that responsibility matters.

In a recent article “Connect, then Lead” within the Harvard Business Review, the question was asked, “Is it better to be loved or feared?”  The answer lays in how your employee perceives their manager “What are this person’s intention toward me?” and “Is he or she capable of acting on those intentions.”  The article makes the case that an approach of engagement, warmth and trust, enables the leader to garner the trust of their employees, and then follow with their strength, competence and credentials.

Could leadership or management engagement with Edward Snowden have prevented the ongoing drama of the compromise of classified material which he caused?  He broke trust with both his employer and the employer’s customer, the United States Government.  Snowden’s crimes are detailed in the criminal complaint filed in Alexandria, Va. He is alleged to have committed the crimes of “Theft of Government Property,” “Unauthorized Communication of National Defense Information,” and “Willful Communication of Classified Communications Intelligence Information to an Unauthorized Person.” Perhaps, but absent any details on the manager/employee dynamic, it is difficult to speculate.

Yet, Snowden’s absconding with an as yet to be determined, amount of classified documents gives all who manage cleared employees great pause. The linchpin of the engagement with cleared employees is “trust.”  And in the national security world, it is “trust but verify.”  This extra level of scrutiny, which has always been present raises the professional tension between the employee and the manager.  Absent this tension, and a rogue employee breaking trust can cause tremendous harm to both employer and customer.

This tension feels like sandpaper running across your cheeks – painful. But it need not, especially when both sides of the equation – the employee and manager – realize the expectation has been set for greater security review, oversight and compliance. Each employee has responsibilities by the very nature of working within a closed environment and their professional life is open to deeper inspection.  Again bi-directional trust.

In setting your expectations of the employee, set them up for success and stay engaged. Demonstrative actions and engagement enable your cleared employee to operate with confidence and in doing so they are able to make the greatest overall contribution to the customer’s mission/task. Employee’s know when their manager and employer are making an investment, and the achievement of trust is an investment.  In making this investment, you are not only setting the stage for your team’s success, but are also making clear that you trust your employee to carry their load, within your unique and secure environment.

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).