What to Look for in Corporate Executive Protection Agents?

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In addition to the hard skills that are most often discussed, successful executive protection agents possess a number of other characteristics that can be broadly described as soft skills or personality traits.

In this blog, we outline the 10 traits that set apart high-performing executive protection agents from the less-great. Many are interrelated; all are important. When an individual agent displays most or all of these traits strongly, he or she would make a highly successful executive protection agent – and would also do well in many other fields.

The first five traits are particularly significant for the special demands of the protective service industry. Since our overarching goals are to keep our principals safe, happy and productive no matter where their jobs and other interests take them, we must consistently come up with solutions to new challenges, and we spend a lot of time with principals without being their friends. It requires a certain kind of person to thrive in this context.

The second five traits focus on emotional intelligence, which is also essential for success in corporate executive protection. Daniel Goleman, who has written extensively on the matter, sums up some key concepts relative to EQ and leadership. We believe these traits apply just as well to EP agents as they do to CEOs.

1. Resourcefulness

A good executive protection agent needs a special mix of smarts and moxie. We call it resourcefulness.

Executive protection teams are often in situations that are completely new. Changes of venue, tasks, expectations and many other aspects of the job are commonplace. Even the best Standard Operating Procedure are tested by non-standard situations. If there is confusion, the executive protection agent is the one everyone looks to make it all good again.

Resourceful executive protection agents make do with what they’ve got, and always try to get the best outcome out of any situation. They’re creative problem solvers, adaptive and quick to think on their feet. They ask for what they need – and aren’t too shy to ask loudly if that’s what’s required to get the job done. They always have a Plan B and C, and they never act as if there is anything but Plan A.

The mental habit of thinking ahead is another characteristic of a resourceful executive protection agent, for as Seneca pointed out several thousand years ago, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Good executive protection agents make their own luck – and deliver superior results – through forward thinking. Their approach resembles that of a chess player as they are used to thinking several moves ahead so that they can shape outcomes proactively rather than deal reactively with adverse situations. Forward thinking is an important aspect of quality executive protection.

2. Resilience

Life is full of stress, and bad things happen – also to good executive protection agents. Resilient executive protection agents aren’t the ones who never get into tough situations. We all do that. They’re the ones who cope with adversity and keep the mission on track no matter what. Helplessness is never an option.

Psychologically, resilient executive protection agents are able to navigate through emotional turmoil without turning into a shipwreck. They exude a calm sense of urgency whether everything is business as usual or the situation has leapt into emergency mode. They have the skills and the mindset to counterbalance negative emotions with positive ones. Even when others are succumbing to negativity and pessimism, resilient agents know how and where to dig deep to find more optimism.

3. Professional commitment

Commitment to the to task of serving the principal is an essential part of executive protection profession.

Good executive protection agents realize that the security, privacy and productivity of the principal come first, and that the needs of the principal supersede their own needs. They are able to put their personal preferences aside and stand by the client no matter what – before, during and after the detail. The same extends toward the rest of the executive protection team.

Successful executive protection agents also realize that this form of professional commitment has nothing to do with the interpersonal commitment that couples promise each other. Professional commitment is a one-way street. It’s not reciprocal, and it’s not about being the friend of the principal. It’s about doing the job we are tasked to do in the most professional way possible.

4. Discretion

Executive protection agents doing close protection of a principal are, well, close to the principal. That closeness extends to all kinds of situations that never can be taught at an executive protection school. In addition to protecting principals as they conduct business, agents will often be there when the principal is traveling, enjoying time with family and friends, and just get on with his or her life. Complete confidentiality is expected in all matters.

Through it all, good executive protection professionals must maintain their integrity and know their place. Sometimes it’s in the foreground and the principal wants to talk; often it’s in the background, and the principals has no need to be reminded of their board-mandated 24-7 protection services.

5. Service minded

Executive protection is a service industry. It’s about helping other people to meet their needs, and it’s not about you meeting your needs.

95% of what we do in corporate executive protection is directly related to taking care of the client’s requirements for protection, productivity, comfort and overall well-being. The other 15% of the time is spent writing up after-action reviews and expense reports. Yes, this adds up to more than 100%. See the notes on work-life balance below.

While executive protection agents might sometimes stay at five-star hotels and eat at three-star Michelin restaurants, they are also the ones who clean up before the principal arrives and make sure there’s plenty of the principal’s favorite water in the car. Some people get the service mentality, others don’t. It’s not so much about being servile as it is taking ownership of the job and consistently adapting to the client’s needs.

Successful executive protection agents do their jobs, and they help others in the corporate ecosystem to do theirs, too.  Because they are service minded, they know that if they make the principal’s executive assistant, chief of staff, speech manager or others look good, they too will look good – and the principal will be more likely to be safe, happy and productive.

6. Self-aware

Executive protection professionals must know their strengths as well as their weaknesses. In addition to being clear on their own goals and motivation, they must be able to recognize how their own moods and emotions impacts others.

People with a well-developed sense of self-awareness exude self-confidence. They’re also able to laugh at themselves, and feel no need to over- or underestimate their own abilities.

7. Self-regulating

Executive protection agents need a high degree of self-regulation in order to stay open to change and deal with new or ambiguous situations. Good self-regulation helps them choose their words carefully – and gives them the option of thinking before reacting.

Great executive protection agents also master another, very particular form of self-regulation. They are able to remain vigilant for hours on end when absolutely nothing is happening. Moment by moment situational awareness is key to protection.

8. Socially skilled

Executive protection agents must be able to work with people and build relationships in order to make things happen. The best agents are born networkers who lay the groundwork of solid connections everywhere from the C-Suite to the hotel kitchen. They find common ground where others find barriers, and they build good rapport wherever they can.

They’re also excellent communicators who get their message across and have the persuasiveness to get their way more often than not. They can read a principal and a situation; they know when it’s time to fade into the background, when it’s time to engage in conversation; and they understand the difference between assertiveness and aggression.

9. Empathetic

Empathy starts with being aware of other people’s feelings and then considers their feelings when we act. For the executive protection agent, these “other people” include not only the principal, but everyone else in his or her orbit – also other folks on the executive protection team.

Empathetic executive protection agents thrive in international corporate settings. They pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues that express an individual personality, a corporate culture or an entire nation’s way of relating and doing business. They recognize the needs of others, and they act accordingly.

The empathy of good executive protection agents is controlled, not unrestrained. Controlled empathy enables the successful executive protection agent to temper warm compassion with cool calculation. We don’t drop protocols to please the principal. We recognize how people are feeling, and we acknowledge those feelings through our actions without losing site of the overall program objectives.

Here, good executive protection agents understand that empathy is not always a two-way street. It’s not about us or our feelings, it’s about doing the job in the best way possible.

10. Self-motivated

It is variously called drive, initiative, perseverance and being proactive. Highly motivated executive protection agents don’t do the job for the money or the recognition. They achieve for the sake of achievement.

A self-motivated executive protection agent is a good executive protection agent. He or she maintains an optimistic outlook even when the chips are down. A high degree of motivation means the performance bar is always on the way up, and continual improvement is a way of life for the professional executive protection team.

A different kind of work-life balance

Corporate executive protection is rarely a 9-5 job. The client’s needs come first and they can change suddenly.

Balancing the demands of a corporate executive protection work schedule with those of a significant other or young child can be difficult. There is a lot of time on the road, and although the work often seems glamorous and exciting, it can also get lonely. While working, executive protection agents are away from home, sometimes at someone else’s house with someone else’s children.

In order not to get burned out, executive protection agents need to be extremely good at balancing the demands and perks of the job with all the other parts of their lives. They also need well-managed programs, suitably staffed and led, and career opportunities that allow them to develop and grow.

Competitive Advantages of Executive Protection

Tags: Corporate EP

Executive protection can increase a corporation’s competitive advantage. Although there are more than enough terrorism and crime worries, highly prominent C-suite execs may be at over-proportionate risk of these. We know from client feedback that increased safety from threats and risks is just one part of the benefits of corporate executive protection. Other benefits such as productivity, happiness, and peace of mind are also important, but so is competitive advantage. Everything else being equal, we believe the company with a strong executive protection program will have a small but meaningful edge on a company without it.

This blog examines four ways that increasing the C-suite’s safety, productivity and peace of mind through properly implemented and managed corporate executive protection programs creates competitive advantage for the corporations who use it.

1. Good executive protection enables the C-suite to travel more

We all know that travel can be grueling both mentally and physically. Once the initial glamor wears off, days of end-to-end meetings, jet lag, the hassles of constantly changing locations and time away from loved ones are rarely seen as perks of the job. In fact, there’s quite a bit of evidence that while business travel has its benefits, it definitely has its health and productivity costs, too.

We want our principals to be able to say, “You guys make it easier to travel, so we travel more.”

That’s put about as succinctly as possible. When our principals get to spend more time with key staff, major accounts and other stakeholders worldwide, it can make a difference.

This is true for travel in established markets, but even more so for trips to emerging markets where much of the world’s economic growth is expected to take place in the next decade. In fact, according to McKinsey, half of the Fortune 500 will be located in emerging markets by 2025.  Travel risks are higher in most of these countries. Countries such as Kenya and India have notoriously poor infrastructure, and travelers here are far more likely to get hurt in a banal traffic accident than in a brutal terrorist attack. The important thing to note is that these risks are manageable, so corporations with good executive protection and logistical support can be less likely to shy away from business opportunities there – and therefore more likely to grab market share.

2. Good executive protection increases the C-suite’s productivity

Whether at home or on the road, principals who benefit from executive protection enjoy increased productivity. Flawless logistics turns commuting time into work time, which for most principals translates into spending hours every week on issues that can grow the business rather than paying attention to traffic. The same is true for traveling: otherwise wasted time between destinations becomes an opportunity to hold extra meetings or prepare for the next encounter.

Concierge-like enablement by professional executive protection teams reduces risk and increases productivity. Having a protective agent organize simple errands like getting the dry cleaning not only lowers the principal’s exposure to threats; it also allows him or her to spend time on other things.

Good executive protection is never an interruption. It goes on in the background of the principal’s attention rather than the foreground. Indeed, working closely together with executive administrative assistants, executive protection can limit or eliminate many of the interruptions that otherwise seem inevitable during a day, such as colleagues just popping in for a brief chat at the office or others approaching outside of it, and all while maintaining the principal’s reputation internally and externally.

It’s also important to note in this context that when executive protection enhances productivity, it also boosts security. We work hard to establish a good daily flow that keeps us on top of the principal’s schedule and all transportation. This keeps things moving, which together with control of strategic points, are two cardinal rules of good security practice.

3. Good executive protection gives the C-suite peace of mind

Calm minds work better than agitated minds. Mental activity spent worrying about one’s own wellbeing – not to mention one’s family’s – can be a serious distraction.

Getting “egged” or “pied” in a public appearance is an insult that everyone can do without. For some prominent principals, this is a risk that comes with the job. Executive protection can’t prevent every invasion of privacy, whether they come from within the company or without, but it can drastically limit their likelihood and thus provide the principal with better peace of mind.

Protecting the principal’s loved ones in a way that is consistent with family wishes is another way to improve peace of mind. While high net worth parents may require protection for their children, they often do not want to do so in a flashy way. Despite their wealth, they want their children to experience childhoods as close to normal as possible. Well-designed and implemented protection programs can provide security without bodyguards always hovering around so families can get on with their lives without distraction.

Good executive protection also sets itself apart from the more amateurish variants by better protecting the reputation of the principal and the corporation. When “bodyguards” get into the news, it’s almost always for the wrong reasons. Good executive protection rarely gets in the news. Instead, it prevents the kinds of incidents that create the wrong kind of attention. Even though paparazzi can be relentlessly persistent and downright irritating, good executive protection agents handle them professionally and within the limits of the law and good decorum.

4. Good executive protection enhances business continuity

The sudden incapacitation or death of a CEO is a devastating experience for his or her family members, friends and colleagues. Research shows that this can also have serious impact on business performance and share prices.

Unfortunately, this is not as uncommon as one might hope to think. One study showed that about seven CEOs of S&P companies die per year, and that 75% of these deaths were sudden. If the CEO is well respected and doing a great job, share prices typically drop several points on the announcement.

Obviously, even the very best executive protection program cannot prevent death by any cause. But good programs can in fact go a long way to mitigate the risk of untimely deaths. Principals who are driven by professionally trained security drivers are far less likely to get into traffic accidents than others. Principals with protection agents who are also trained in CPR, and who always have automated external defibrillators on hand or nearby, have considerably better chances of surviving cardiac arrest.

Given the competitive advantage, why wouldn’t a corporation use executive protection?

It’s interesting to note that many companies purchase key-person insurance policies for one or more of their C-suite. Corporate boards consider these policies not for everyone, but only for those persons whose sudden absence would create significant negative effects.