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Lessons in Leadership: Kevin Gowen, CISO, Synovus
One of the truisms of leadership is that great leaders learn both from themselves and from other leaders about what works and what doesn’t.
HMG Strategy Founder and CEO Hunter Muller recently spoke with Kevin Gowen, CISO at Synovus, regarding leadership lessons that Kevin learned coming out of the global pandemic along with advice on being a multi-dimensional leader.
The following is a condensed version of their discussion from a recent HMG Spotlight interview.
Hunter Muller: Kevin, it’s great to see you today. We’re recognizing you as a recipient for the Mid-Cap CISO Award under our 2023 Global Leadership Institute program. Congratulations!
Kevin Gowen: Thank you, Hunter. I appreciate being recognized by HMG Strategy knowing all the significant work you all do for the industry and for practitioners. It’s a real honor.
HM: Kevin, leadership matters more than ever. Coming out of the pandemic, what have you learned about leadership?
KG: That’s such a hot topic. As I was reflecting on that, one of the things I kept asking my team members during the pandemic was ‘What’s working for you and what’s not?’. Because I felt like we were all learning along the way. This includesreally being focused on what’s effective. How do you manage people? How do you communicate? How do you maintain a connection when everyone’s in 2D on a screen?
And I think what that’s done, at least for me as a leader, it’s made me more effective. I’m having to be multi-dimensional. I can’t count on filling a room with people and talking to them. I have to think about formal stand-up meetings, more informal group discussions, one-on-one talks and being very targeted and specific in that.
I think the other thing that we all run the risk of is that you get a little disconnected from folks and you start talking at them instead of talking with them. And you can’t maintain the quality and depth of the relationship – that’s one of my biggest fears. Our folks will be working at home and team members will start feeling like contractors. This is just the place that sends them deposits of paycheck every few weeks, as opposed to feeling the connection to us and our culture and what we do and why it’s important.
So, I think it takes an extra effort for leaders to figure out how to do that genuinely for themselves and then to really be relentless.
HM: You know, culture matters more than ever. Kevin, how would you characterize your leadership style for building culture?
KG: So much of that goes back to communication. I really focus on being candid and transparent with team members. I think that’s important. People know when you’re telling the truth and when you’re genuine and when you’re not. If people know that you’re being candid, I think that gains you the benefit of the doubt. I think that’s an important piece of culture for us. I want people to be empowered. I want people to know their ideas and their input matters.
It’s not like we take a vote on everything, but we’re going to come up with a better answer if our team members are involved and engaged.
Our company culture is very much about people. It’s about people and how we stay connected to our communities out in the markets that we serve. It’s about how we stay connected to teammates and all our other colleagues inside the company with how we behave and how we interact.
So, it fits really well together. There’s probably never been a more troubling time right now in a global landscape with cyber threats with nation-states and all sorts of implications.
HM: How do you engage with your partners so you’re ensuring that you’re getting top performance and top service?
KG: ‘Partner’ is such an important word because of the real connotations of it. It gets misused a lot and you and I both know that, but you know that true partners on both sides are the ones making an investment in the relationship.
When I think about who my best partners are, they’re the ones that take the time to understand what’s important. And that’s not the annual call from the new rep saying, ‘What are your projects? Tell me about your business… what’s your budget?’.
My best partners will say ‘I want to understand your business, I want to understand your industry, I want to know what’s important. So, when I bring you things I can do, knowing that they’re meaningful to you.’
So that’s one piece. The other is that I’m willing to invest time and effort in the relationship as well in telling you what’s important and being candid and giving you feedback. And then when you earn the right to ask for my business, knowing that ultimately — if we each put in a lot of investment and we both have skin in the game — then we’re truly partners.
To view the full HMG Spotlight interview with Kevin Gowen,