Leading the fight against the dark side

The Pentagon
Photo: Courtesy Sophos

Sophos is one of the leading IT protection companies in the world. Everything about them says: “We are the good guys fighting to protect you from the evil ones”. The impression is that of Bletchley Park during WWII with the brightest of the bright once again brought together to combat an increasingly sophisticated but invisible enemy.

So where does this impression come from? Well, the first clue is the name of their headquarters in Abingdon UK: The Pentagon. Although we might not all agree that the US represents ‘good’, the name does conjure up images of intelligence, security and high-technology.

The next clue is the entrance to the building where pleasant but firm receptionists and security guards scrutinise visitors and soundless barriers part once you’ve been assessed and granted access.

The website supports this to a certain extent being littered with words such as security, attack and protection. However, it doesn’t do full justice to the way those working in the business feel. My host, for instance, half way through the visit suddenly went pale when he remembered that he hadn’t logged off his laptop before leaving his office. But talk to those on the technical side and then the real ethos begins to emerge with language incorporating the words: war, the bad guys, exploitation, and the enemy.

But it’s not just the words, it’s the tone as well that makes it crystal clear they share a passion for their work. And where does this start? With the founders Drs Jan Hruska and Peter Lamme who promoted the culture by talking about the business as ”combatting a global threat”, using “honeypot computers” to lure and trap viruses, and the “race against time… to produce the antidote”[1]

Leadership then, starts and sustains the ethos of an organisation. If the job can also be seen as worthwhile, then a potentially winning combination is created. And all leaders, be they team, department or organisation, do well if they can answer the questions:

What is our ethos? And why is what we’re doing worthwhile?

[1] See, for instance, The Downing College Magazine, Spring 2006



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