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The Globe and Mail

Three keys to success: teamwork, flexibility and creativity

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

In the military reserve and as an intelligence officer and private sector businessman, I've learned that sound leadership – one that embraces teamwork, creativity and flexibility – can get you far, whether you're protecting local businesses from malware or fighting front-line national security threats.

Over the past 25 years in civilian government service, military reserve service, and periodic overseas service, and now with Darktrace, I've seen extraordinary changes in the threat landscape, encompassing the Cold War, organized crime, terrorism, espionage, extremism, and state-sponsored terrorism – threats that transitioned from analog to digital.

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Today, I'm focusing on helping businesses identify and mitigate the most sophisticated cyber-threats. And believe me, they're out there.

Whether protecting nations or businesses from the bad guys, three principles have always rung true for me. If you want to be a successful leader in high-stress environments, you have to have teamwork, encourage flexibility, and inspire creativity.

It all starts with teamwork

I've always been a firm believer that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The people on your team and how efficiently you collaborate are vital elements of success. As a leader, it is crucial to build your team with strong members who share your values and are dedicated to a common purpose. You need to understand your teammates, too. By understanding their strengths and weaknesses, you can assign the roles and responsibilities that play to their strengths.

There's a big difference between being a leader and being a taskmaster. Leaders give autonomy to their team, which in turn fosters trust. By trusting your team, you give them the confidence to solve problems, be creative, and rise to the challenge, ultimately bringing success to the entire organization.

Make flexibility part of your DNA

I've worked in a number of unique roles and, without flexibility, I would have never been able to succeed. Internalizing flexibility allows you to adjust when things aren't going right. Fluid thinking keeps you from getting stuck, which in turn opens the door to greater possibilities.

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Most importantly, being flexible allows you to deal with change. Change is a fact of life, and how you handle it greatly impacts your ability to succeed – especially in business. Over the years, I've seen dramatic changes in the threat landscape. To succeed, I had to learn new approaches and problem-solve my way through tricky situations, but approaching change with flexibility allowed me to get through it.

Bring creativity to your everyday

When you have all the right pieces in place – a great team that embraces flexibility and feels empowered – you have the freedom to be creative. At Darktrace, I look for people who can think creatively about our business and our customers. Creativity is a key component to success in both the public and private sectors. Creativity isn't just painting a pretty picture. It's thinking differently about problems, identifying unique scenarios, and questioning the status quo. Being creative in the business world allows you to discover unique solutions for you and your clients. At the same time, creative thinkers are experts at improvisation. They immediately recognize when Plan A isn't working and swiftly move on to Plan B, or even Plan C.

My career and leadership style is grounded in my experiences, which have allowed me to see these principles as true drivers of growth. Most importantly, these guiding values have allowed me to successfully shape my career on a code which stems from my Scottish-Canadian heritage. The motto of Scotland is "Nemo me immune lacessit," or "No one provokes me with impunity." The late Scottish writer William McIlvanney once suggested that the motto be changed to "Wait a minute, that's not fair!" No matter the exact wording, much of my career has been dedicated to upholding the tone of these mottos by keeping the bad guys from harming nations, businesses, and people.

David Masson is the Canada country manager for Darktrace.

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