Fear is not a gift in executive protection


February 10, 2020 - By Jared Van Driessche & Christian West

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Fear is an emotion that is hardwired into us through our evolution. Like other basic emotions (e.g., happiness, sadness, anger and disgust), we experience fear for good reason: it helps us survive. Fear keeps us alive by setting off that uncomfortable feeling we have when we run into people or things that look like they will harm us. Fear enables us to avoid these threats before they happen and to escape them once they get too close for comfort. We get to live another day – and another chance to spread our genes and do other wonderful things.

When something goes bump in the night, the little chemist in our brains dumps a heaping spoonful of adrenaline into our bloodstream, triggering the “fight or flight” mechanism that jacks up our heart rate and readies our muscles for action. That’s great when we respond to a saber-toothed tiger or some other known threat: Fear primes our pumps for quick action that will reduce the immediate danger. But fear is not such a great response to unknown or vague threats; in these cases, fear leads to its evil twins, anxiety and negative stress. Instead of dealing with an identified threat, we wallow in a continuous cesspool of cortisol and adrenaline. We feel lousy. And we neither understand, fight, nor flee what scares us.

Fear can be a gift to people in vulnerable situations…

Back in 1997, Gavin de Becker wrote a great book called The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence. In this popular self-help book, de Becker argues that we all can and should learn to trust our gut to perceive the warning signs of violence. Fear can, de Becker shows, help us stay safe. By better understanding these warning signs, or “pre-incident indicators”, de Becker argues that we are better able to predict and avoid violence. It’s the kind of book that every father wishes his daughter would read, and it deservedly spent months on bestseller lists around the world.

Anyone working in the executive protection industry will recognize Gavin de Becker as not only a bestselling author but also as an EP and security specialist who founded the eponymous Gavin de Becker and Associates company, one of the most respected colleagues in our industry. So, is fear also a gift to EP practitioners? Not necessarily and not always. And, sometimes, quite the opposite.

… but it is not helpful in executive protection operations or careers

Let’s be clear about one thing: Executive protection practitioners also benefit from understanding the pre-incident indicators of violence that de Becker describes. We use these every day to protect our principals and ourselves – just as we use many other forms of situational awareness and protective intelligence. And let’s be clear about another thing: de Becker wrote his bestseller for the general public, not for EP professionals. His book has helped thousands of people avoid violent situations. Bravo for that, and kudos to Gavin for literally having saved lives with his important book!

With that said, we also want to say that fear is not a gift in executive protection. Far from it. In fact, as we pointed out in a previous blog, we believe fear is responsible for a lot of the problems that plague executive protection programs and practitioners. So, let’s drop fear like 5th period English!

10 ways that fear hurts executive protection practitioners, our industry, and – ultimately – our principals

While fear is a gift in some situations, it’s also real hinderance that manifests itself at all levels and in every nook and cranny of the executive protection industry. Paradoxically, the tough men and women whom we are proud to call our colleagues also include some of the softest, most fearful snowflakes out there. So, without further ado, here are ten ways that fear is not a gift to the executive protection industry.

1. You can’t build an executive protection program or business on fear. But plenty of EP companies keep on trying.

Fear isn’t something you can build a sustainable, scalable executive protection program or business on. Sure, plenty of bad things happen all the time. Yes, our world is increasingly globalized, connected and fast-moving. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a terrorist attack in Djibouti, or three, is a good reason to beef up security in Los Angeles. Long-term success as an EP company cannot be based on marketing fear. Still, some companies do it ALL THE TIME. To us, it’s dishonest business practice.

True story: We heard from a client that an EP agent told them, due to some fear-based horse dung, that the principal should have 10 people, at a minimum, around her at all times. When attending a movie premiere, because of her prominence and fame, a counter-sniper team on the roof is best practice. In reality, this bodyguard felt super inadequate, and this sense of inferiority brought on fear of being discovered as such. Rather than dealing with his own stuff, this EP agent tried to show his client how intelligent and smart he was by thinking up ways to protect her that were so far out there that they didn’t make sense. In short, his fear of inadequacy destroyed any trust he had with the principal, and he was dumped for being a fear-mongering idiot.

2. You’re afraid your resume doesn’t look cool enough, so you beef it up with BS

There is plenty of room in the executive protection industry for people with different backgrounds. But some people are still so afraid that their resumes aren’t what recruiters are looking for that they pad them with BS.

So what if you didn’t come from a military background and you don’t have 10 confirmed kills in combat? You can still add value to the EP team. Quit measuring yourself against someone else’s background.

One of the authors of this article never served in the military or in law enforcement. He couldn’t go to his senior prom with the girl he wanted, so he took his mom instead. He prefers to pee sitting down. He is also celebrating 20 years in the executive protection industry. So, go get a straw and suck up your insecurity!

3. Fear of failure makes EP teams keep repeating the same old sorry stuff – and stifles innovation

One of the biggest reasons we don’t see major innovation in the executive protection industry is that we are too afraid of what others think of us. It’s sad but true.

Instead of sticking to something that works mostly to prevent you from getting fired, what about trying to find even better ways of providing protection? Something that improves quality, efficiency and reliability?

Go ahead, get over your fear of failure and put yourself out there. Challenge the status quo, inspire, and don’t be afraid to revolutionize our industry. Just because 95% of the people out there are just copying and mirroring what someone else is doing doesn’t mean you have to.

4. Fear of criticism prevents EP agents from acting professionally

Ouch. Poor you. The principal, family, staff, or that especially mean executive admin spoke harshly to you. Now you’re afraid to do the right thing because they might think even more poorly of you. Get over it.

Guess what: we are in a challenging industry where people have an opinion about all kinds of things, including what we do and how we do it. If you can’t take the heat and want to be liked all the time, you need to pack your stuff up and head home because you’re weak and this industry isn’t for you.

Sadly, we see not just entry-level EP agents but also seasoned security directors fail because they are simply rattled by the principal’s candor and directness. Don’t let fear do that to you.

5. When your worst fear comes true and you get fired, you freeze up rather than seize the day

As we’ve pointed out in previous blogs, EP is the best and the worst job in the world. Where else can you learn so much on Monday, have life-altering experiences on Tuesday, and get fired for wearing the wrong pair of shoes on Wednesday?

So, your employment situation just changed. Abruptly. Do you retreat into a hole and tremble, or do you embrace your losses and move on? We strongly suggest the latter. Your career setbacks are learning lessons. If you see them as opportunities to grow rather than personal failures, you’ll be better off. We’re not saying you shouldn’t have any self-awareness or put the blame on anyone but you. Go ahead and face up to your mistakes, if you made some. Then learn from them and move on.

Not every principal is going to love your charming personality. Not every EP company is going to be the right fit for you or for a given principal. There will always plenty of haters. If we relied on what people thought of us every day, we might not ever get out of bed. Resiliency is one of the keys to success in this industry. If you’ve been fired or had a principal that didn’t like you, choose to see it as an opportunity to practice resiliency, deal with it, learn from it if you can, and move on.

It’s all mindset. Losing isn’t failure unless you take it as a loss. Your mindset shouldn’t be win or lose, but win or learn.

6. Fear of saying no to the principal

Yes, principals can be powerful, famous, demanding and challenging to work with at times. But being afraid to say “no” to them is not the way to a successful EP career.

Be a human being. Treat others like a human beings. Including principals. If you’re too scared to interact with the principal or tell them “no” on something crucial, how can they expect the limp noodle that is you to adequately protect them if some hostile stuff goes down?

We’ve seen people freeze because they are enamored by fame and power. Don’t be that person. Like most other human beings, clients tend to respect folks around them that can speak to them honestly, directly and politely.

7. Fear of taking a chance

We’ve seen new details operate out of fear-based assumptions of what the client wants or doesn’t want. Instead of doing what’s needed to get the job accomplished, everyone tries to protect their jobs.

We have some advice for you: Stop asking for permission to act all the time. Use your best judgment and just act. Do your job and the rest will take care of itself. It’s often better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Sometimes you’ve got to risk it!

8. Fear of being called out

You’re a horrible shooter, so you focus on defensive tactics and say they’re more important than shooting. You’re so out of shape that it hurts to move, so you focus on shooting and say it’s more important than defensive tactics.

You hide what you suck at, so you won’t expose yourself. And that’s why you will never get better at what you suck at. You’re afraid your lack of skill will be discovered and talked about. Instead, you keep taking courses in and training what you’re already good at.

How silly is this? Yet, it’s common, and we see it all the time with people, teams and even whole companies in the EP industry.

9. Fear of sharing knowledge

OK, your dad told you information is power. We get that you want to be powerful and make your dad proud. But does hoarding knowledge actually make you more powerful? Maybe for a while. But don’t confuse unfair advantage with real strength.

In the long run, fear of sharing knowledge not only hurts you but also hurts your team’s morale and operational excellence. If you learn something, share it with others. Helping your team succeed will help you succeed. Hiding all the good cards up your sleeve is going to get you fast-tracked to the unemployment office. Don’t fall into that trap.

10. Fear of admitting mistakes

How often do we see people pass the buck instead of just admitting fault? It’s a major flaw in our industry and we need to stop it. You screwed up. It was your bad. Don’t hide the truth, own it.

Playing the blame game is not going to help your EP career, your team, or your principal. Clients notice this and equate it to claiming that the dog ate your homework. That’s as lame now as it was when you were nine years old. You’re not fooling anyone else, so don’t be so afraid that you even try to fool yourself.

By the way, not all mistakes are career killers. Believe us, we know. If you’re challenging yourself, you will make mistakes. So, learn from them instead of trying to hide them. And do us all a favor by not repeating the same ones.

What’s your take on fear in the executive protection industry? Ping us on social media!

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Jared Van Driessche

Senior Director of Global Operations

As Senior Director of Global Operations, Jared is responsible for strategic leadership and oversight of AS Solution’s operations worldwide. Over the course of his long and diverse career, Jared has planned, executed and led close protection details for CEOs, dignitaries, heads of state, boards of directors, celebrities, and various public figures on more than 300 international trips to over 70 different countries. He has extensive international experience, including the provision of close protection and threat assessment to clients in high-risk environments throughout Africa, Asia, Central America, South America, Europe, and the Middle East.

Christian West

Founder and CEO

Christian has been active in the executive protection industry since the late 1980s, when he worked for Danish musicians who relocated to Hollywood. Upon returning to Denmark, he founded his own EP company, which he quickly grew into Scandinavia’s largest, before it was acquired by Securitas.

Christian founded AS Solution in 2003, and again in 2009 followed his international clients to the US, where he is now based. An active member of ASIS and a leader in the corporate executive protection industry, Christian has personally planned and led high-profile engagements in over 76 countries for a wide variety of corporate and high net worth individual clients, including the international roadshow for the biggest IPO in history.