Key Lesson: “High drama” situations require grounded, centered and transparent leadership. Pull in your emotions, rely on your paradoxical thinking and adapt.
This week’s Grounded Leader will not sit in the shadows like his predecessors. The new director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, understands his job will require public dialogue. Rogers has stepped into his new leadership role with eyes wide open and realistic expectations.
Admiral Rogers takes the helm at the security agency at a time of high drama — European outrage, congressional crackdown on its power and intense public scrutiny. This ironic turn of the tables is not lost on Rogers, a highly-trained cryptologist. The spotlight is shining bright on the heart of the USA’s electronic eavesdropping and cyber-operations ever since the Edward Snowden revelations. Public and congressional demand for more transparency and more conservative decision-making is loud and clear. Rogers doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the past: “I understand why we are where we are,” he says. “I don’t waste a lot of time saying, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to work with us?’”
Rogers takes over the NSA at a point in history when cyber intelligence is critical for national security. The NSA operates in the cyber world against adversaries far less constrained by privacy and citizen rights. The challenge is immense. Rogers is seeking to re-frame the public debate that has damaged the reputation and morale of the NSA. He believes he needs to educate the public about what the NSA does, why it does it and under what limits. In his typically plain-spoken fashion, he says of the NSA’s need for information: “I am not going to jump up and down and say ‘I have to have access to that data in minutes and hours.’ The flip side is that I don’t want to wait weeks and months to get the data.”
With this mission of dialogue and frank disclosure, Rogers represents a real shift in leadership for the NSA. Considered by many colleagues to be well suited to make important leadership decisions about balancing privacy and national security, Rogers has already, in his short tenure, opened up with the media. He recently shared with the New York Times his positions on Snowden, data security, and working with US telecommunications businesses. In contrast to many other leaders in the intelligence community, Rogers takes a decidedly measured approach regarding the Snowden leaks, saying “You have not heard me as the director say, ‘Oh, my God, the sky is falling.’ I am trying to be very specific and very measured in my characterizations.”
At the same time, Rogers wants the public to understand that adequately securing the data we do collect is a tall order, and that it will always be a challenge: “Am I ever going to sit here and say as the director that with 100 percent certainty no one can compromise our systems from the inside? Nope. Because I don’t believe that in the long run.”
Our cyber future will be shaped by Admiral Michael Rogers. He sees his leadership priority as a mission to restore trust in the NSA at home and abroad. He is our Grounded Leader of the Week for his intellect, his out-of-the-box thinking and his capacity to think at a global level in very complex times.
Admiral Michael Rogers on Bloomberg News