Women in Business Q&A: Natalie Lehr, Director of Analytics, TSC Advantage

Natalie Lehr is director of analytics at TSC Advantage. With more than 15 years of experience as an intelligence professional, Natalie's expertise spans both the government and commercial sectors. Her work for the U.S. government includes extensive experience in the identification, acquisition and development of critical information, supporting high-value national security interests. In the commercial arena, Natalie led the development of innovative methods to acquire and analyze critical information to protect specific interests and high-value intellectual assets. She holds a master's degree in international relations from Yale University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
The economic struggles of my family made my efforts to earn opportunities and challenge weaknesses more urgent. In one circumstance, to pay for my college books, I participated in a study that required me to sleep in an MRI chamber - and I'm terribly claustrophobic. During the experience, I learned to cope with the stress by playing a game, focusing on the regular cadence with which I squeezed the rubber ball that the physicians placed in my hand for comfort (the physicians later told me they could have set a metronome to my squeezing). From this experience, I learned that even during the most stressful events, it is possible to leverage seemingly unrelated skills - such as my years of playing a musical instrument - to develop creative ways to manage panic-inducing situations.

By challenging one's perspective regarding personal fears or weaknesses, stressful experiences can be tolerated and overcome with a minor change in perspective. Leadership isn't about a starting position; it's about competing by using all the resources at your disposal and inspiring those around you to contribute toward an organizational goal as if it were their own personal accomplishment.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at TSC Advantage?
I have been privileged to be able to contribute to Department of Defense (DoD) missions that instilled a tremendous sense of purpose and showed me the value of empowered action in the face of risk. In all business decisions, just as in critical DoD missions, there are costs to inaction. Businesses that proactively manage risk report higher returns than those who take a reactive approach. From DoD, I learned to apply the perspective that risk is ever-present, even if it hasn't yet been discovered.

In addition to the myriad of opportunities provided by the DoD for continuous learning and the development of highly specialized subject matter expertise, organizationally it taught me that groups are only as strong as their weakest link. Similarly, TSC Advantage emphasizes programs and initiatives that enable and recognize staff contributions at all levels. It's the responsibility of leaders to harmonize those perspectives into a systematic solution.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at TSC Advantage?
For small or medium-sized (SMB) businesses, it's tough to compete in the security space against big business incumbents. Simply by virtue of being a small business, potential clients perceive our solution as posing a greater potential risk than a large business offering. Therefore, much is invested in educating potential clients on the value difference between our solutions and those of our competitors. Similarly, we must ensure near-term returns while building a foundation for a long-term vision. Big businesses often create efficiencies via one-size-fits-all processes that don't align with the specific security needs of clients, something that TSC Advantage can't - and won't - do.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in the security industry?
Women often excel at forming strong relationships and building trust among colleagues. Leveraging these skills is important for women looking to succeed in the security industry because trust enables organizations to benefit from customer and employee insights into sensitive challenges, as well as to build capabilities in an agile environment. In a matrixed organization, relationships are critical building blocks that enable employees to adopt flexible roles and take on fluid responsibilities. Build trust with your network and continuously invest in mastering your skills. Additionally, be flexible with your communication style as a demonstration of your commitment to open dialogue. If the outcome matters more than your opinion, be willing to modify your style to meet the needs of the listener.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I'm lucky in that my work is my passion, so I enjoy the investment of my time. I also view stress as a challenge rather than a threat. This perspective helps keep me balanced when there seems to be an insurmountable number of tasks to accomplish.

As a single mom, however, I don't have an option to avoid balance. I must stay healthy to take care of the physical, emotional and material needs of my children. Personally, I commit to regular exercise (soccer, running, yoga, dodgeball), trivia night with friends, and maintaining a positive attitude (life doesn't have to be a prisoners' dilemma game). As an example, every time I go to the grocery store with my sons, there is always a cereal box negotiation. The boys must agree upon the selection of a single box, and achieve that consensus by pointing out all the positive attributes of their preferred brand. Every experience provides an opportunity to practice positive psychology, even mundane cereal purchases.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Constraints often arise from the (lower) expectations, rather than the capabilities, of women in the workplace. Given that women have talents and capabilities equal to men, women must demonstrate their intelligence in more matrixed ways, meaning our value is not just the impact of our logical reasoning, verbal or mathematical skills. We must leverage our relational and emotional intelligence to build relationships and tear down barriers.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship in my professional career has emphasized the value of balancing lessons learned in hindsight, in their current state and over the horizon. In my personal life, each of my close friends is valued for their honesty and integrity. Most importantly, however, my mother is a bastion of strength and encouragement in the face of hardship.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I closely follow Professor Meg Urry, director at Yale's Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Although she is not directly in the security field, I admire her commitment to dispelling myths about and inspiring woman in the sciences. In my experience, limits to growth have arisen from the additional social pressure to be perfect and avoid failure. Once I realized that neither state is achievable, I became more flexible and resilient when faced with challenges. This shift in perspective enabled me to feel like I had more influence over negative outcomes than mere avoidance. Some of the most valuable and yet difficult lessons are learned through failure. And in a competitive marketplace, where risk is the new norm and a perfect security system is a myth, it isn't enough to be knowledgeable in a single topic. I am inspired by Meg's passion for women to become active members of the science and technology community, which is the bedrock of American innovation.

What do you want TSC Advantage to accomplish in the next year?
TSC Advantage is committed to improving our clients' cyberposture and creating pragmatic solutions that provide near-and long-term returns to the business. In the next year, we look forward to helping interested parties obtain insurance coverage consistent with their needs, and reducing burdens for the insured and insurer in the nascent cyberinsurance marketplace.

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