Deloitte & Touche LLP’s Deborah Golden: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
… Be Purposeful — lead through authenticity with a mission (and impact) that embodies opportunities to create a better world for everyone (be a believer!)
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah (Deb) Golden.
Deborah (Deb) Golden is the US Cyber & Strategic Risk Leader and Cyber Strategic Growth Offering Leader at Deloitte & Touche LLP, one of Deloitte’s largest growth and business transformation Offering Portfolios in the company’s 175-year history with more than 8,000 professionals (across the US, India, and Israel). She is guided by her unwavering commitment to “change the face of cyber” and building a diverse, equitable and inclusive practice by spearheading initiatives like the Deloitte Cyber Career Accelerator Program and Deloitte’s relationship with the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s VetDogs. Since joining Deloitte more than 25 years ago, Deb has integrated her purpose-driven leadership style into each of her roles — embracing and encouraging change along the way while inspiring an empowered culture of accountability, authenticity, and acceptance.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve always been insatiably curious about the world around me and the way things worked. When I was young (still single digits), my father (an Information Technology executive for a defense contractor) would bring home tech widgets and devices that fascinated me — the beeping sounds of the computers (also known as error sounds). Entranced by their capabilities, I quickly figured out their innerworkings. Little did I know that I was developing a knack for first generation coding which would eventually be foundational for my career in cyber and technology, a professional journey that I’ve been on for more than 25 years.
Currently, as Deloitte’s US Cyber & Strategic Risk and Cyber Strategic Growth Offering Leader overseeing a team of over 8,000 professionals around the world to help some of the most dynamic organizations navigate uncertainty, solve complex business challenges and power the transformation of their business through cybersecurity, I’m still energized by the same relentless curiosity and passion that I had as a young girl. These traits — my curiosity, tenacity and resilience — drive me to ask (sometimes difficult) questions, explore different perspectives, challenge assumptions and the “norm,” and color outside the lines. They’re what empowers me to break down paradigms, create a space for myself (and others) to unlock innovative thinking and uncover new opportunities for exponential impact.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Though this situation may not be considered the “funniest” mistake, but early in my career, I learned a valuable lesson around leveraging my voice (interesting coming from someone who is often outspoken)! Once, during a meeting that was attended by senior executives whom I’d looked up to most of my career, I was one of the only attendees that remained quiet throughout the session. As a female in male-dominated spaces, “having a voice” can be an interesting challenge — if we speak too much, we may be seen as pushy or aggressive and if we don’t speak at all, we’re perceived as passive and potentially marginalized because of same. After the meeting, someone who noticed the absence of my voice said to me that my silence during the meeting “spoke volumes.” In that moment (and every day since), I’ve been harnessing the power of my voice — using it as a catalyst for change to make sure everyone has a seat at the table, and encouraging individuals (myself, other women and men) at every level to speak — and becoming unapologetically confident in my (and your!) voice.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I attribute much of my success — coupled with my discipline and my strength — to my mother who instilled a sense of morality, intellectual curiosity (and learning by experience!), and resilience in me. The lessons and values that she taught me throughout her life and beyond her untimely death have undoubtedly shaped me and propelled me forward, despite facing hardships and setbacks as a leader and as a human. I believe our experiences shape who we are, teach us lessons, inform the way we approach hardships, and give us strength (though we may not realize it at the time) to move forward — ultimately underpinning my “grit” (or my superpower!).
Grit is often developed out of challenges and, for me, that was the death of my mom when I was a teenager. While my mother’s death produced significant distress, it also provided a doorway to transformation and growth, as I learned to persevere in the face of incredible loss and change. My grit factor developed during this time, giving me the ability to thrive under pressure and maintain a sense of empathy and purpose, while managing a crisis. In cybersecurity, the problems we help solve are some of the toughest in existence — often, you must solve for problems that have never been seen before or may not yet exist. Our work is time sensitive and there is a low threshold for error, which is why people who have a passion for turning challenges and opportunities into long-term competitive advantages, while being intensely focused on the goal, are critical on any cyber (or technology / innovation!) team. I have leveraged my grit to help clients navigate some of their most challenging moments in the wake of disruption.
Understanding my own grit has been transformational to my personal growth. It has given me the courage to speak up and speak out — to advocate for myself or on behalf of others. I think a person’s grit is one of their most important attributes, even if it’s something they don’t yet fully understand. Ultimately, those who take the time to process and understand their experiences, what they’ve gained (and even what they have lost) from them and apply these learnings may be better equipped to turn their adversity into advantage and transcend hardship and excel. Don’t get me wrong — anniversaries and life moments are still difficult, but when I close my eyes and think of my mother, I’m humbled by her grace and strength, and by my own evolution. I’m a fighter because of her!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Deloitte began in 1895 to meet the demand for people skilled at understanding and solving complex business problems — despite incredible environmental, societal, and political change over the past 120+ years, our vision to be the Standard of Excellence and our purpose to make an impact that matters by creating trust and confidence in a more equitable society still holds true.
While the work Deloitte does is incredibly diverse (and subsequently the way we impact our clients and society as a whole varies), I feel deeply grateful to lead our US Cyber & Strategic Risk business which helps our clients confidently navigate uncertainty, build capabilities that make a transformational impact on the country’s security and resilience, and drive exceptional performance at scale — an aim that is increasingly critical as our world becomes more digitally reliant, interconnected, and complex, thereby creating an ever-changing (and expanding) threat landscape.
While our purpose is what unifies us and gives our work meaning, I think the way Deloitte and our business approaches the challenge is particularly meaningful whether that’s collaborating with our clients or engaging with stakeholders including employees, board members, and shareholders to help them create opportunities for growth that change the face of cyber. This could be leading from the front and finding unique talent pathways to make the field more accessible, diverse, equitable, and inclusive for a variety of cybersecurity professionals, or connecting a broader ecosystem network — industry, academia, and government — to help them understand and address the next generation of challenges. We are tireless in our efforts to make the world more trustworthy, resilient, and secure.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Reflecting on the past three years, our lives have pretty much been surrounded by uncertain and difficult times — everything from societal to environmental to geopolitical disruption — but these moments also provide us with an opportunity to embrace change (especially when challenging) and emerge with an even stronger outcome tomorrow. Just before the pandemic changed the world, I set the course with my leadership team to put our business on track to accelerate our client impact and market position– seeking broad investment and commitments and proposing to double in size TWICE over the course of five years with unanimous support. Within two weeks, the pandemic struck the world — and everything would change. One thing that didn’t change was my resilience and my empathy (and of course my grit!) — fostering my energy to lead (and motivate!) our practice and our professionals not just through the pandemic but also create opportunity for our clients, our people, and our business because of the disruption. During these difficult times, our team embraced the uncertainty, bringing ourselves closer together as a cohesive unit, to not only double in size and scale but also to complete six (6) acquisitions in six months, and in combination with organic investment, we are well on our way to double in size again! It’s because of these efforts that we now serve our clients and our professionals in new and meaningful ways in the modern environment.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
When you’re making bold moves and running up against hard challenges, there’s always a voice — in your head or externally — that says take an easier road. But, in my experience, to drive real business and societal change you need to be willing to color outside the lines, use your voice even when no one makes room for you to do so and be relentlessly curious. I’m motivated by the same curiosity and love for learning that I had as a kid. I’m energized by working with people who want to solve complex challenges and helping them see the potential in their ideas and find the confidence in their voice.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
While I’ve read countless books covering the gamut of “leadership” and “management”, not to mention strategies for innovative change, I’m often drawn to books focused on true stories and journeys of real people overcoming tragedy and adversity. They provide me with the utmost inspiration — examples of hope and motivation through courage and optimism. Storytelling enables me to understand diverse perspectives. By learning through others — their personal experiences and stories — and reflecting on our own, we get the opportunity to see the world from different vantage points, ultimately learning new perspectives and countless lessons.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Any leader will tell you that having to face at least one crisis is almost a guarantee, but the testament of character is how you show up for yourself and your team, and how you maximize opportunities and grow from the experience. In today’s world, change is a current constant — and a necessary component of leadership is establishing trust and creating the foundation, environment, and culture for your team (and organization) to innovate, adapt, and thrive. It’s critical during challenging times that leaders not only build trust but encourage others to be champions of it. Trust empowers teams to collaborate, innovate and excel through ambiguity, helping leaders confidently manage amidst uncertainty, and embracing challenges as opportunities to both learn and grow individually and together!
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Authentic (and perhaps increased!) communication is always important especially during uncertain times. It helps convey a clear vision and path forward while enabling trust — recharging and energizing individuals and teams around a common goal, setting expectations and coaching others to propel towards the “art of the possible.” Leading during difficult times also provides an opportunity to come together as a team, embracing empathy while reinforcing a sense of purpose to strengthen the organization for tomorrow while navigating the uncertainty of today.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I find the best approach to communicating calmly (and with poise) is to tap into your emotional intelligence — balancing directness and clarity with empathy while sharing only the most critical information. The key is to keep the lines of communication open and listen with compassion — to guide thinking and behavior, while adjusting and adapting your emotional intelligence to the environment — aimed at strengthening trust amongst professional and personal relationships. Difficult situations test the foundational components of your culture, your organization, your relationships, and your resilience; however, at the root of these challenges is one attribute that contributes the most between success and failure: trust. Trust becomes the most important asset amidst a crisis and change — building (and sustaining) a high-level of trust before, during, and after a crisis will enable a team to have the agility to nimbly react quickly to fluctuating situations.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Every business leader will experience risk, uncertainty, and disruption during their professional (and personal!) journey, and particularly during these past few years, leaders have seen the effects of unpredictability on their organizations — the long-lasting impact of the pandemic, the great resignation and exacerbated talent shortages, the massive shift in demand for hybrid and flexible work arrangements, the changes in the geo-political landscape — compounded by the increasing struggles with stress and mental health challenges within the workforce. While we might not know or be certain of the next step, it’s important for leaders to narrow their focus on priorities (those that you can control, as opposed to the barriers outside of your vantage point) while emphasizing people over perfection to optimistically pivot at pace with each new challenge.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Stay Curious. I found it to be key to unlocking the potential of our people (and ourselves!) and foundational to the role (and purpose!) of a leader. As we ask questions and seek solutions (that often come from places we least expect), we can uncover challenges and opportunities, while at the same time increasing our capacity for innovation and growth to provide more value to the market (and to ourselves and to each other). Continuous curiosity — combined with progress over perfection — is a vital role of intellectual humility in leadership.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
One mistake that I’ve seen many leaders make is closing channels to ideation and innovation in favor of tried-and-true methods that may have been impactful in the past. In cyber and in fields where the landscape changes very quickly, it’s important for businesses to understand that the “map is not the territory” and that innovating in the middle of a crisis — building a plane while flying it and recognizing the calculated (and purposeful) risks — is both possible and sometimes crucial in making it through adversity.
Another mistake that many leaders make is not listening to your entire team, as leaders should be mindful of individual needs and effectively inspiring personal and professional development. Every individual has impact and value — and that rings true for people at every level and across each part of your organization. Diverse voices help to inform the 4Ps of your team — perspectives, priorities, passions, and potential. By listening (with transparency and loyalty), you discover people’s strengths while at the same time empowering your professionals, increasing their engagement and motivation, which will have positive impact — both individually and collectively.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Be Purposeful — lead through authenticity with a mission (and impact) that embodies opportunities to create a better world for everyone (be a believer!)
2. Be Present — listen with compassion to each other and set the pace for the change that your organization and colleagues, and our society truly needs (walk with others!)
3. Be Authentic — be open and transparent; express emotion and show vulnerability to establish a solid foundation of inspiration and trust (use your voice and believe in your team!)
4. Be Grounded — grant those around you (and yourself) the support for a growth mindset (cultivate trust)
5. Be Patient — focus on progress, transforming perceptions along the way, over perfection (embrace your learning moments)! After all, change cannot happen without failure (be unabashedly imperfect!)
Embrace the discomfort that comes from change and uncertainty — and most importantly be self-aware, facing your challenging circumstances (through resilience and perseverance) and learning from your own unique experiences by cultivating your “grit.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is from Ed Viesturs. He is a seven-time climber of Mount Everest, author of “No Shortcuts to the Top.” He says: “Grit teaches that life’s high peaks aren’t necessarily conquered by the naturally nimble but, rather, by those willing to endure, wait out the storm, and try again.” As a teenager challenged by her mother’s illness and her untimely death, I often recall her last moments — when I looked into her eyes and saw a kind of grit and a strength that I had never seen before (and didn’t realize what it was until many years later). It changed my life in so many ways, and I had no idea at the time (and even to this day) that my mother’s resilience would help me develop my own.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can learn more about how Deloitte helps leaders lead through disruption by visiting Deloitte Cyber & Strategic Risk and by following me on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Deloitte & Touche LLP’s Deborah Golden: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.