6 things we’ve learned in our protection careers that help us now in the COVID-19 outbreak – and beyond

To write this blog, I asked some of my fellow AS Solution managers to name the one thing they’ve learned in their executive protection and security career that’s helping them now during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Settling on just one thing wasn’t easy, but that was the brief. Since I’m the boss, I got to give the brief and to go first. So, I kicked things off with something that I know is very dear not just to me, but to everyone else who’s serious about working in executive protection: forward thinking, a.k.a. preparedness. 

Christian West: Forward thinking

Whether you’re working as a bouncer, as I started out my security career, or in executive protection, as I’ve spent the last 30 years, forward thinking becomes a habit. For once, this habit is a good one. There’s no doubt that forward thinking makes it easier to get out of many a tight spot. More importantly, forward thinking prevents you from getting into a lot of jams in the first place.

As I pointed out in a recent blog, preparedness starts before you leave home. It’s what lets you leave your family while you’re on the road, because you know your family is ready to deal with all kinds of situations. Forward thinking is what makes us write contingency plans, do advances, plan sustainment training, pack carefully for a trip, and all kinds of other things that we do every day, week and month.

Forward thinking is a guiding principle for everything we do in this company, and such an important part of our mindset that we included it in our logo. It’s also helping us plan the next steps in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak – and get ready for a world that has put the worst of the crisis behind us.

Brian Jantzen: Maintaining a calm sense of urgency

At first glance, “a calm sense of urgency” seems a little paradoxical. If the situation turns critical, as it often can when working in executive protection, doesn’t that mean you throw any idea of peacefulness to the wind, prime the adrenaline pump, and just get to it? No.

Whether at a desk planning a trip, reacting to a sudden threat on a detail, or dealing with an upset client or colleague, a calm sense of urgency enables you to keep your focus on what’s essential – solving the challenge at hand as effectively and efficiently as possible – without adding layers of emotional obstacles in the process. 

Your sense “urgency” helps you quickly to run through agreed SOPs and evaluate alternative solutions. Your sense of “calm” helps you concentrate on what matters to everyone rather than on your own personal baggage. A calm sense of urgency is, essentially, the outward sign of resilience in real time: quickly coping with adversity instead of surrendering to helplessness.

In times like these, a calm sense of urgency is a great starting point for dealing with the many changes the outbreak is causing for our clients, our colleagues, and our company.

Ray O’Hara: Staying connected with other security professionals

I have been fortunate in my career to build a reputation as a “connector”, someone who’s always willing to share information and connect others. Like so many other good things in life, also this is due to the help of others.

Early in my security career, I had the good luck to have a mentor who understood the power of maintaining a strong professional network. I was practically forced to participate in industry networking opportunities and to connect with other security professionals around the world. Back then, I had no idea how valuable it would be, and I’ll admit that this pushed me out of my comfort zone more than once. Now, however, I thank that mentor for giving me the push.

Of course, networking helps your career prospects. It’s always an advantage to know a lot of people in your field. But in good times – and especially in bad – staying connected with other security professionals is a simple but powerful way to stay informed, understand best practices, and gain perspective. This is invaluable to everyone working in security.

As we make our way through the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s clear to me that many of us could have been better prepared. I’m sure plenty of CSOs are adding a “pandemic” section to their emergency response plans. It’s also clear that there is a whole lot of sharing of best practice going on, and that networking at every level is truly helping many people to respond to the outbreak in better ways than they would have come up with on their own.

Once we’re on the other side of this, I intend to work even harder to help others stay connected.

Tommy Christensen: Leading in volatility

Joining the French Foreign Legion at 19 isn’t the only way to learn about leading in volatility, but that’s how I got introduced to the concept. Working in executive protection around the world for a few decades has since provided plenty of opportunities to learn even more.

A career in EP gives you firsthand experience in getting others through sticky situations across multiple time zones and in all kinds of cultures. It teaches very different lessons than what you can learn through the media or other third-party sources. Overcoming physical, logistical and diplomatic hurdles – and enabling others to do the same – becomes a way of life.

Leading executive protection details requires adaptability and instills confidence, self-reliance, and the ability to think on your feet.  Whether we’re on the ground as an agent or in a management role, we often make decisions that directly impact the safety and welfare of others and ourselves. Over time, that responsibility teaches you not to flap, never to assume, and always to sift through available information and validate sources before making choices, speaking or acting.

Repeated exposure to pressure has an inoculating effect. My stash of toilet paper is no larger now than it was before the COVID-19 outbreak. I’m comfortable in my own head and confident in my ability to act in a manner that will benefit me and mine in a crisis. Being old and crusty doesn’t hurt, either.

Jared Van Driessche: Problem solving

One of the things we do all the time as EP professionals is solve problems. The principal wants to get into a booked restaurant without reservations? Figure it out. The itinerary of a complex trips just changed (again), and there are no more planes available? Deal with it. Plans A, B, and C won’t work? Make up and implement Plan D, now.

In some ways, problem solving in EP is like doing math. You’ve got an equation, you’ve got a pencil, and you keep working at it until you find X or whatever else the goal is. Other times, finding your way in EP is more like playing three-dimensional chess: it’s your move, the clock is ticking, and there are a whole lot of moving pieces you need to keep an eye on.

Still, whether you’re fixing a flat tire or reorganizing operations in the middle of an epidemic, problem solving breaks down the same way. You identify the issues, stakeholder interests, and your goal. You come up with alternative solutions and a way to evaluate them. You choose the best one, and you go. This is helping us deal with the COVID-19 outbreak now, and it will help us deal with the next problem, too.

Martin Nielsen: Flexibility

Working in executive protection requires a lot of flexibility. Of course, we do our advances, write our SOPs, and make plans for all kinds of things. And then life happens. Things change. Suddenly, you need to correct course. Or maybe you have to decide on a totally different course to reach the goal. Sometimes, even the goals change.

On occasion, we have plenty of time to deal with these changes. Often, we don’t. We need to be able to play the long game, then pivot to the here and now and think on our feet.

Flexibility comes in many shapes and forms for EP professionals. Providing the best protection we can with available resources requires a lot of flexibility. So does making good choices despite a lot of ambiguity. Often, you have to make the best decision you can on the fly; training and experience help make these judgements better, but they won’t always be perfect – so we make more adjustments on the fly. Oh, and work-life balance? For sure.

We’re all facing some brand-new challenges right now. Flexibility will be a key attribute for EP agents and companies to make it through the COVID outbreak.

These six attributes will help us get through another crisis

When I look through the five contributions to this blog, they all make a lot of sense to me. It’s not that any one is more important than the other five. They’re all critical qualities for being successful in executive protection and security. There are more, yes, but these are a pretty good start.

These characteristics have helped us as agents – and as a company – to have some success in protective services. I’m pretty sure that they will also help us and our clients get through the COVID-19 outbreak, too. They’ve helped before, and they’ll help again.

Let us know what you think. What’s the one thing that you’ve learned in your protective career that’s helping you, your family, and your clients get through this thing? I’m guessing a lot of you will agree to the six in this blog, but I also have a strong hunch that you’ve got more. As Ray says, sharing is nice!

Photo by Ugo Mendes Donelli on Unsplash