Leadership—technology changes everything?

[written by guest author: Brett Williams, Maj Gen USAF (Ret) (Chief Operating Officer at IronNet Cybersecurity and retired Air Force Major General), originally posted on LinkedIn]


I recently did a podcast interview with Charlie Oliver. Charlie founded an organization called Tech2025 which seeks to explore the nature of technological driven change over the next 10 years as it impacts people and business. The interview was fundamentally about leadership, and she asked me how technology would change the characteristics of good leaders.  Based on the excellent media training I received during my Air Force career, (hat tip Kristi Beckman), I spun the question a bit to focus on what does not change about being a good leader in this age of cyberspace, artificial intelligence and the internet of everything.

One of my favorite quotes is that leadership is technology agnostic. As far as I know, I was the first one to say that, thus a favorite quote. My point is that the technology we have today is going to be different than the technology we have six months from now and radically different than the technology we will have 10 years from now. The constant we need to navigate the accelerating rate of technological change is good leadership. I argue that the essential characteristics of leadership are unchanged from 20 years ago before the internet was a thing and they are the same essentials that are required today and will be required 20 years from now when the internet looks completely different.

Cross generational leaders do two things well. The first is they establish and sustain organizational culture. They define the mission, vision, and critically, the values of the organization. They make sure that the company “walks the talk.” These are not things that are developed, read once and then sit on the shelf.  Defining these in a collaborative fashion with employees, and making sure that executive leaders are constantly reinforcing this culture through their actions and words, allows the organization to stay focused and committed as technology changes the business, perhaps substantially.

The second thing good technology agnostic leaders do well is they provide vision, resources and motivation. The vision is all about how we are going to change the world. What is our company going to do that will make people remember us for more than just our successful IPO? Resources are in three categories—time, people and money. All three of those are critical to getting the job done, all three are finite resources, and all three must be managed to use them efficiently. Finally, motivation. You can think of this as compensation, but if a leader sees compensation as just the paycheck, they are missing the point of motivation. Employees have always wanted more out their work than just the paycheck. They want to feel like the work they are doing is challenging. They want to see their work makes a difference. They want to see a path that moves them forward both personally and professionally. They want their work to complement and enhance their personal lives, not to make their life at home miserable. And perhaps most importantly, people want to work for good leaders. Good leaders understand that motivation is about alignment. Helping people align their personal and professional goals to the goals of the business and vice-versa.

So, this only answers half of Charlie’s question. My next post will talk about what does change to be a successful leader today. And as a preview, it is all about communication and information. How do leaders leverage social media, open data sources and skip-echelon access up and down the management chain to make their companies successful.


About Brett Williams

Major General Brett T. Williams

During his time as an Air Force General Officer, Brett Williams served in four senior executive leadership positions.  As the Director of Operations (J3) at U.S. Cyber Command, he led a team of 400 people responsible for the global operations and defense of all DOD networks as well as the planning and execution of authorized offensive operations.  Prior to this position, he served as Director of Operations (A3O), U.S. Air Force, where he led the largest Air Staff directorate consisting of more than 1300 Airmen and civilians stationed world-wide.  In this role, he developed and justified the operations component of the annual $120B Air Force budget.

General Williams also served as the Director of Communications (J6) for U.S. Pacific Command. His 150-person directorate executed an annual budget of $57M and was responsible for the design, implementation and operation of all command and control networks supporting Department of Defense’s largest geographic warfighting command.  As the Inspector General for Air Combat Command, he led the inspection, audit and compliance process for all U.S based combat flying organizations.

Operationally, General Williams led a variety of large, complex organizations ranging in size from 300 to over 9000 personnel.  In his most significant leadership position as 18th Wing Commander in Okinawa, Japan, he led the largest combat wing in the Air Force. General Williams was responsible for relationships with Japanese political and business leaders in a highly volatile community environment. He executed an annual budget in excess of $100M to support a community of over 25,000 U.S. service members, their families and Japanese employees.  In this significant leadership role, he delivered success across a wide variety of mission areas to include aircraft operations, aircraft maintenance, logistics, civil engineering, security and policing, community support, human resources, financial management and medical services.  Brett is an F-15C fighter pilot with over 28 years of flying experience, including more than 100 combat missions.

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After 28 years of leading flying operations, Brett transitioned into the field of IT and cybersecurity. Currently, Brett is a co-founder and the Chief Operating Officer at IronNet Cybersecurity.  IronNet delivers the power of collective cybersecurity to defend companies, sectors and nations.  Their advanced cyber detection solution leverages behavioral analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning to protect against the most advanced threats.  As COO, Brett supports strategic planning, leads execution against Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), evaluates corporate performance metrics, drives leader development and handles special projects for the CEO.

Brett is a highly regarded keynote speaker, leadership mentor, and cybersecurity expert.  He has appeared several times on national television, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a sought-after subject matter expert.  Brett has served as a faculty member with the National Association of Corporate Directors Board Advisory Services and teaching board-level cyber-risk seminars.  He has served on the Defense Science Board as well as a variety of corporate advisory boards.  Brett holds a BS in Computer Science from Duke University and three graduate degrees in management and national security studies.

General Williams’ Keynote on Leadership:


Brett Williams is a co-founder and the Chief Operating Officer at IronNet Cybersecurity. IronNet delivers the power of collective cybersecurity to defend companies, sectors and nations. Their advanced cyber detection solution leverages behavioral analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning to protect against the most advanced threats. Brett is a retired Air Force Major General. In his last active duty assignment, he was the Director of Operations for U.S Cyber Command. In that role, he was responsible for operations and defense of Department of Defense networks, as well as the planning and execution of authorized offensive cyber operations in support of national security objectives. Brett is also a highly experienced fighter pilot with more than 100 combat missions flown in the F-15C.

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