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7 Questions on Leadership with Allen Westley

Name: Allen Westley

Title: Director Cyber Intelligence

Organisation: L3Harris Technologies

With over 20 years in the trenches of information technology and cybersecurity, I've built a strong foundation that blends hands-on expertise with a passion for teaching as a part-time adjunct professor of cybersecurity.

My CISSP credential isn't just a badge, but a reflection of my commitment to solid digital defenses.

I'm excited about the potential of generative AI in cybersecurity, seeing it as a practical step toward smarter, self-adapting defense systems.

As a DEI champion, career mentor, and professional branding coach, I believe in bringing diverse voices to the table to solve today’s cyber challenges.

My approach is straightforward: align cybersecurity strategies with real-world business goals to create a safer digital landscape.

While my journey has been rewarding, I remain open to new collaborations and discussions that drive towards a secure, innovative future.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Allen's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

As a leader in the dynamic field of cybersecurity, I often find myself grappling with the challenge of striking the right balance between understanding the complexities of cybersecurity issues and moving towards practical, actionable solutions. It's frustrating when my team gets too absorbed in the minutiae of a problem, circling around it without making headway towards resolving it. My approach is pragmatic and people-oriented, and I thrive in environments where collaboration fuels problem-solving.

I firmly believe in surrounding myself with people I can trust, who bring to the table a wealth of knowledge that even surpasses my own. This strategy has always served me well, but it also presents its unique set of challenges. The key difficulty lies in ensuring that this collective intelligence is not just a pool of ideas but a driving force for innovation and action.

Looking ahead, anticipating future trends and threats in cybersecurity is a significant part of my role. It's not just about managing the here and now, but about being prepared for what's next. My motto, "never mistake motion for progress," is a guiding principle in this regard. It's essential to distinguish between mere activity and genuine, forward-moving progress. In this fast-evolving sector, staying one step ahead isn't just an advantage; it's a necessity. This forward-thinking approach, while challenging, is what keeps me and my team on our toes, ready to tackle the next big thing in cybersecurity.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Reflecting on my journey to leadership, it strikes me that I never actively pursued the title of 'leader.' Rather, it seemed to find me, a natural progression born out of my willingness to take on challenging and sometimes undesirable tasks that others avoided. This path to leadership was very much influenced by a profound piece of wisdom from my mother. She used to tell me, "Son, if you want to be extraordinary, you have to do extraordinary things." Her words became a guiding principle for me, underlining the idea that to achieve exceptional results, one must be willing to go beyond the ordinary, to embrace challenges that others may shy away from.

As I navigated my career, I consistently found myself in situations where I was solving complex problems or handling difficult tasks. These experiences not only honed my skills but also elevated my visibility within the organization. My colleagues and superiors began to recognize my ability to deliver results under challenging circumstances. This recognition was not just about my technical skills, but also about my approach to problem-solving, my work ethic, and my ability to inspire and motivate others around me.

Another key aspect of my journey was my belief in the power of asking for what I want. I’ve always believed that if you don’t ask, you don’t receive. So, I’ve never hesitated to express my goals and aspirations. This openness has not only helped me to clarify my own ambitions but has also opened doors that might have remained closed otherwise.

in fact, having a clear vision for my future has been crucial. I've always been proactive about setting a direction for where I want to be and then creating energy around that vision. It's about shaping your path, not waiting passively for opportunities to come to you.

So, in a way, my rise to leadership was a blend of doing the extraordinary, speaking up for what I wanted, and having a clear vision for my future. It’s these elements, combined with a strong foundation of hard work and resilience, that have defined my leadership journey.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

My workday structure is both disciplined and purposeful...Thank you military...designed to maximize productivity and maintain a balance between professional responsibilities and personal well-being. Here's how a typical day unfolds:

Early Morning (4 AM - 6 AM):

My day begins at 4 AM. This early start isn't about being better than others; it's when I'm most focused. I kick off with a 2-mile walk around my company campus. This isn't just physical exercise; it's my time to absorb the latest in tech and cybersecurity through podcasts. This routine helps me stay informed and sparks ideas for the day.

Morning (6 AM - 9 AM):

After my walk, I typically have a healthy breakfast, followed by a review of my schedule and priorities for the day. This time is also when I catch up on emails and important communications that need my early attention. I like to handle critical tasks first thing in the morning when my mind is the most alert.

Mid-Morning to Afternoon (9 AM - 5 PM):

My workday involves a mix of meetings, project work, and team interactions. I ensure to have a balanced mix of collaborative sessions and individual work. Strategic planning and decision-making are integral parts of this time. I also make it a point to mentor and interact with my team, ensuring we're aligned and moving forward together.

Lunch (Around Noon):

I take a proper lunch break, often using this time to step away from my desk, which helps me recharge. Sometimes, it's a networking lunch with colleagues or industry peers.

Afternoon (1 PM - 5 PM):

The afternoons are usually for continuing project work, meetings, or addressing any unforeseen issues that arise. I also block one hour for personal introspection. This time is non-negotiable and is marked clearly in my calendar to ensure I have this period to re-center myself.

Evening (5 PM - 8 PM):

I typically wrap up my workday around 5 PM. It's important for me to have a clear boundary between work and personal life. Evenings are for family, relaxation, or personal hobbies. This downtime is crucial for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Night (8 PM - 10 PM):

I usually have dinner with my family and spend time unwinding, possibly reading or engaging in a leisure activity. I avoid work-related tasks during this time to ensure I'm giving myself a complete break.

Before Bed (10 PM):

I try to get to bed by 10 PM, which allows me to get enough rest before starting my early morning routine again. This disciplined approach to sleep is as important as my work ethic, ensuring I'm always at my best, both mentally and physically.

This structured routine helps me stay productive, focused, and balanced. It's a blend of disciplined work habits, continuous learning, self-reflection, and ensuring personal well-being, all essential elements of effective leadership.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Reflecting on my recent experiences, one leadership lesson that stands out is the importance of adaptability and resilience in the face of unexpected challenges. In my role, I'm often confronted with situations that require quick thinking and flexibility. Recently, I was involved in a project that encountered significant unforeseen obstacles. The initial approach we took wasn't yielding the results we anticipated, and it became clear that a change in strategy was necessary.

This experience reminded me that as a leader, it's not just about having a vision and a plan; it's also about being able to pivot and adapt when circumstances change. It reinforced the idea that sometimes, resilience and the ability to quickly reassess and adjust our strategies are just as important as the initial planning.

Another aspect of this lesson was the importance of transparent communication with my team. When we faced these challenges, I realized the value of being open about the situation. By discussing the issues frankly and inviting input from the team, we were able to collaboratively develop a new approach that was more effective. This process not only helped us overcome the immediate obstacles but also strengthened the team's cohesion and trust in leadership.

So, this recent experience reinforced two key lessons for me: the need for adaptability in leadership and the power of open, collaborative problem-solving. These lessons are invaluable in navigating the complex and often unpredictable landscape of cybersecurity.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

One book that has had a profound impact on my leadership is "The Power of Giving Away Power" by Matthew Barzun. This book really reshaped my perspective on what effective leadership looks like in today’s world. Barzun critiques the traditional pyramid models of leadership, where all authority is centralized at the top. His insights resonated with me because I've always felt that such models stifle creativity and do not promote inclusivity.

Barzun introduces the concept of 'Constellations', which are dynamic networks of individuals who shine brightly on their own but achieve even more when connected with others. This idea struck a chord with me, as it aligned with my belief in the strength of collaborative effort and diverse teams.

Reading this book prompted me to shift my approach from holding on to power to sharing it, from directing to empowering. It helped me to see the value in decentralizing decision-making, fostering cross-functional team collaboration, and building a culture that doesn’t just accept but celebrates diverse perspectives. This approach has not only made my teams more innovative but also more engaged and connected with the work they do. It's a leadership model that doesn't just aim for inclusion; it requires it. This book has been instrumental in transforming my leadership style into one that's more adaptable, resilient, and inclusive in the face of the complex challenges that come with the cybersecurity landscape.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If I could offer a single piece of advice to a young leader, it would be this: take full ownership of your life and career. It's a belief I hold dear — that you must steer your own ship. If you don't, you'll find yourself at the mercy of the tides, always reacting to what life throws at you, rather than charting a course toward where you want to go.

Ownership means embracing responsibility for your decisions, your team, and the outcomes, both good and bad. It's about being proactive, not just in your tasks, but in your personal growth and the culture you cultivate within your team. Develop a vision for where you want to be and take deliberate steps towards it. Don't wait for opportunities to find you; put yourself in the path of opportunities. When you live and lead with this mindset, you empower not just yourself but also those around you to take control and strive for greatness. Remember, extraordinary things require extraordinary effort, and it starts with owning every aspect of your journey.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One meaningful story that stands out from my time as a leader occurred during my early days as an IT manager in a mission ops center. We were the new defense contractors tasked with transitioning the system architecture, and the environment was tense with high stakes. I made a significant error: I mistakenly executed a system command that brought down a mission-critical system.

The weight of the mistake was immediate and heavy. I realized the severity of the situation — the mistrust from the mission director, the tension from previous contractors, and the responsibility that rested on my shoulders. In a split second, I had to decide how to react. I chose to pick up the phone and own up to my mistake directly to the mission director, explaining the error and the steps we were taking to recover the system.

That moment of honesty did more than just resolve a technical mishap; it laid a foundation of trust and credibility that was far more robust than any system we were operating. It showed the mission director and my team that integrity was not just a stated value but an active practice. The incident became a pivotal point in my leadership journey, illustrating that the path to trust and respect is paved with transparency, accountability, and the courage to face the music, even when it's the last thing you want to do. This story remains a touchstone for me, a reminder that leadership is as much about facing up to our vulnerabilities as it is about celebrating our strengths.

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