Select Page

Do Cyber Managers Need Ninja Skills?

Jun 29, 2021Career, Leadership, Management, Workforce0 comments

next gen cyber leadership and ninja skills

A question I ask new cyber managers is, “Do you cyber managers need ninja skills?” Not surprisingly, many of them say they do.

Like other engineering disciplines, many cyber managers were promoted to their leadership position based on their prowess as a cyber ninja. But one difficulty transitioning to a cyber manager, is accepting the idea that being a ninja isn’t what we are being paid to do.


As a ninja, cyber martial arts was something that energized us. Our impact was measured by our ability hunt down intruders, engage in martial combat, and vanquish our adversary. Our value was linked to our mastery and application of the black arts. Some of us might even have been a Sensei to developing ninjas.

It’s understandable then, if we long for the sting of battle; and we worry that our skills are perishing. The anxiety can be so strong in fact, that some managers will head into battle with their ninjas. Or at least sneak into the dojo for some robust martial arts refresher training.

Which brings us to the question, “Do cyber manager’s need ninja skills to be effective?”

Unfortunately, like many things in the our domain, the answer is, it depends. It depends on our company, our business model, and the size of our organization.

So instead of trying to decide if cyber managers need ninja skills to be effective, let’s look at four common reasons for why they think they do.

I need ninja skills for credibility

A lot of cyber managers (new and seasoned) believe they only have credibility if they are able to spar with, and occasionally, defeat their ninjas. I caution any cyber managers who holds this belief.

As a manager, your job is to support your ninjas by removing barriers and obstacles to their success. You need to be able to gather information and understand the technical challenges they face. To be effective, certainly requires that you keep your technical knowledge razor sharp. But a lot cyber managers use this as an excuse to continue training their own skills.

The issue isn’t whether you should or should not keep ninja skills sharp. The issue is why do you want to, and how it might impact your staff?

Our credibility as cyber managers should be based on how capable we are supporting our organization — ensuring they accomplish the mission. It’s usually detrimental to base our credibility on our ninja skills, because invariable its comes down to a comparison. This kind of comparison naturally creates a competitive environment between us and our staff, which can have unintended negative affects.

We are most effective when our credibility is based on how well we leverage our knowledge and experience to help our staff succeed. We can further credibility by investing in developing their skills instead of our own.

I need ninja skills for problem solving

Sometimes our staff includes a lot of junior ninjas. Or, maybe at we were a wisened old Sensei who fought hundreds of battles with the adversary.

As former ninjas, it easy for us to take on the mantle of problem solver for our staff. It is immensely gratifying when we demonstrate our intelligence and wisdom by quickly giving them the solution. They leave feeling happy, and so do we.

But when we think about it, we quickly see that while rewarding, this approach is both inefficient, and unsustainable.

It’s inefficient because the time we spend solving the myriad of problems our staff deals with, is less time available for us to spend on things that only we can, and should do. It’s unsustainable because we have become a stop gap and a single point failure; our staff is now dependent on us.

With this approach we’re not building critical problem solving skills in our staff, and short circuiting their growth and development.

A better approach is to assume the role of coach, (as opposed to teacher or mentor.) Coaching helps your employee arrive at a solution on their own. It is the proverbial ‘teaching them to fish’. With mentoring or teaching, we are apt to unconsciously guide them to our answers; i.e., ‘feeding them fish’.

The kind of challenges cyber managers should focus on include:

  • managing the impacts of digital transformation,
  • build organizational talent, and
  • managing organizational performance

Managing the impacts of technology insertions, building talent and managing performance are constant challenges that we must continuously stay on top of.

My senior leadership expects me to have ninja skills

This is another common misconception, especially among newly minted cyber managers. And while not true in every case, most senior leaders look for skills other than ninja skills. These include:

  • strategic planning
  • organizational development, and
  • leadership development

Strategic planning and critical thinking are essential for success as a cyber manager. Unfortunately, the tendency is to limit our focus to cyber risk and and risk response, and we fail to consider broader aspects and impacts to the business.

Successfully accomplishing our mission is directly linked to our ability to build and sustain a high performing organization. Yet many cyber mangers don’t devote nearly enough time and energy to this critical activity.

And finally, nothing has greater impact on the success of our organization, our company, and ourselves, than our ability to develop the next generation of leaders.

I’m less valuable without ninja skills

I apologize for being blunt here, but if you feel that your technical skills are being wasted in your cyber manager role, you shouldn’t be a cyber manager. Effectively creating and managing a high performing cyber organization requires professionalism, dedication, and sacrifice.

Your ninja skills may have gotten to where you are today, but they won’t get you where you want to go, if you want to continue to succeed. In this new role, you’ve accepted a larger set of responsibilities with a greater potential for impact. And as I pointed out earlier, the adjustment can be challenging.

If you are still putting on you ninja armor and battling with the adversary, you’re most likely, undermining your own organizational effectiveness. Chances are you are:

  • Preventing your employees from learning and growing their ninja skills
  • Neglecting other duties and responsibilities that are more appropriate to your role, and that would have a larger impact on your organization
  • Driving unecessary cost into your company because are a more expensive resource than one of your employees, who could also perform the work.

So does a cyber manager need ninja skills?

I don’t think they do and worry they are a distraction at best. But every cyber organization and culture is different, and the expectations I have for my managers, will certainly be different, at least in part, from your manager’s.

Discuss your ideas with your manager. Make sure you both are clear on what success looks like, and then adjust your expections and responsibilities accordingly.

If you choose to maintain some level of ninja skills, make sure you are leveraging the ongoing investment wisely, and be mindful of how your decision impacts your organization.

Make sure you are getting the organization results you want.


Read more on managing cyber talent.

Original article first published on Medium.

About Greg Sweeney
I'm a cybersecurity leader and futurist. I write about the future of cybersecurity leadership, culture, and workforce strategies; exploring what our future can look like if certain ideas, approaches, and trends actually happen.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *