Five Leadership Lessons from Simpson-Bowles

In January 2010 the U.S. Senate was locked in a sharp debate about the country’s debt and deficit crisis. Unable to agree on a course of action, some Senators proposed the creation of a fiscal commission that would send Congress a proposal to address the problem with no possibility of amendments.   It was chaired by former Senator, Alan Simpson, and former White House chief of staff, Erskine Bowles.

Darrel West and Ashley Gabriele of Brookings examined the leadership lessons in this article. I was struck by the application of some of the lessons to the SIEM problem.

1) Stop Fantasizing About Easy Fixes

Cutting waste and fraud is not sufficient to address long-term debt and deficit issues. To think that we can avoid difficult policy choices simply by getting rid of wasteful spending is a fantasy.   It’s also tempting to think that the next Cisco firewall, Microsoft OS or magic box will solve all security issues; that the hard work of reviewing logs, changes and assessing configuration will not be needed. It’s high time to stop fantasizing about such things.

2) Facts Are Informative

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously remarked that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” This insight often is lost in Washington D.C. where leaders invoke “facts” on a selective or misleading basis. The Verizon Data Breach report has repeatedly shown that attacks are not highly difficult, that most breaches took weeks or more to be discovered and that almost all were avoidable through simple controls.   We can’t get away from it — looking at logs is basic and effective.

3) Compromise Is Not a Dirty Word

One of the most challenging aspects of the contemporary political situation is how bargaining, compromise, and negotiation have become dirty words. Do you have this problem in your Enterprise? Between the Security and Compliance teams? Between the Windows and Unix teams? Between the Network and Host teams? Is it preventing you from evaluating and agreeing on a common solution? If yes, this lesson is for you — compromise is not a dirty word.

4) Security and Compliance Have Credibility in Different Areas

On fiscal issues, Democrats have credibility on entitlement reform because of their party’s longstanding advocacy on behalf of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Meanwhile, Republicans have credibility on defense issues and revenue enhancement because of their party’s history of defending the military and fighting revenue increases. In our world, the Compliance team has credibility on regular log review and coverage of critical systems, while the Security team has credibility on identifying obvious and subtle threats (out-of-ordinary behavior). Different areas, all good.

5) It’s Relationships, Stupid!

Commission leaders found that private and confidential discussions and trust-building exercises were important to achieving the final result. They felt that while public access and a free press were essential to openness and transparency, some meetings and most discussions had to be held behind closed doors. Empower the evaluation team to have frank and open discussion with all stakeholders — including those from Security, Compliance, Operations and Management. Such a consensus built in advance leads to a successful IT project.