Leadership in Executive Protection

by Frank G. Gallagher

What is leadership today? What has happened to the so called leaders of the industry? Who really makes the decisions that affects the lives of the people that we protect? Has the profession sold out?

As a former Recon Marine, I make all decisions pertaining to the daily operations of any protection detail predicated upon two principles:
1.  Accomplish the mission.
2.  Look out for the welfare of my men.

Seems pretty easy to me, how do I keep the principal from getting hurt or embarrassed and how do I keep my team from getting hurt?  So far, my track record is pretty good. I’ve had zero casualties for VIP’s and zero for my team. I’ve done protection operations in 46 countries. Some extremely high threat, some nearly zero threat.  I have taught protection in another dozen extremely high threat countries. None of the people that I have taught have ever had a VIP injured. There have, however, been some casualties amongst the protection teams. Not to be unexpected, as the areas that they are working in are not vacation areas. Of course, we would not have been there if they did not need real help.

The points that I am going to make seem like no brainers to me, but there is something intrinsically flawed in our profession today. Or I wouldn’t be writing this. As usual, I have all the questions and very few of the answers.

Forty years ago, being a protection guy meant one of two things – either you were a knuckle dragging Neanderthal with an IQ of 80 or you were an ex-cop, ex-football player, weight lifter, etc. that was related to somebody who knew somebody. Your job was to look intimidating and be ready to kick some ass if your principal found themselves in a bad spot. We were professional fighters. Brain not required nor desired. The profession was viewed as a less than honorable one.

Thirty years ago, this perception began to change as world events put more people in harm’s way. Major corporations, entertainers, politicians, etc. realized that by virtue of being well known or controversial that they needed to make sure they did not become a statistic. Visionaries like Dr. Richard Kobetz (Executive Protection Institute) saw what was happening and started programs to make the profession honorable. He made people realize that planning and being presentable (not ogres) was the way of the future. We learned that the keys to success lay in never having problems, not beating the crap out of miscreants. Of course, the lawyers were pleased to have a new breed of protection specialist that they did not have to represent in court nearly as often.

Others like Tony Scotti realized that getting our VIP’s from point A to point B without getting killed on the road required a different set of driving skills. He saw that just having a driver’s license was not enough to help keep the VIP’s safe. That defensive driving and evasive skills were as important to the VIP’s as planning. That being able to see bad things unfolding on the road ahead of us gave a chance to avoid problems. Again, the lawyers were ecstatic.

Forward thinking corporations, families, entertainers (and their legal staff) soon realized that our profession could keep them safe, not get them embarrassed and not sued in court as regularly as they used to be.  CEO’s and their board of directors even realized that they had a fiduciary responsibility to their clients and shareholders NOT to get hurt, killed, or sued. And these folks were hiring the graduates of these specialized training courses and seeing them as assets not liabilities.

All of this progress was a good thing for the industry. BUT, like all things, change is not embraced by all. Where did the protection guys fit in the hierarchy of the corporate, family pyramid? Who did we answer to?  What was the chain of command? Who did the director of security report to? Who did our reviews? Who decided who was good and should be retained and who should be let go?

Some reported to the CFO, some to the director of human resources, some to the secretary of the boss, some to house manager of the family. No big deal, right?

WRONG! This is where the wheels start to come off and where the leaders fall far short of their responsibilities to their men and their VIP’s. How can someone judge what we do and how we do it if they have never done it? They can’t. And never will be able to. It is up the team leaders, the security directors, detail leaders (choose your term) to enlighten these so called “bosses” and look out for the members of their teams. Unfortunately, today, this does not happen.

Since when did being a house manager, wife of a CEO, butler, human resource director, or anybody else automatically qualify them as security experts? Sure, they can comment on looks, weight, verbal abilities, demeanor, clothes, but they know nothing about the industry. Never have, never will. Why do they have this power? Who gave it to them?

All of this has come to pass because the leadership guys have sold out. They are more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing the job correctly. They don’t have the balls to tell anyone outside their team that they do not know what they are talking about. They don’t tell them to stay in their lane. As a result, the protection of the principal has been compromised as the protection team guys are now asked to cook breakfast, hang up coats, walk the dogs, take the maid to the train station, this list could go on forever.  Instead of doing advances, running routes, working out, etc. – the protection team is seen by the other worker bees just sitting around eating donuts and we quickly are labeled as lazy and probably not needed. True leaders know this and make sure their team is always working, not seen feeding their faces or sleeping in the command post.

This has become a huge factor in our industry and why we are losing the respect that we earned a few short years ago. Combine this with all the PSD (personal security detail) guys returning from the Middle East that are now trying to find state side work and we have serious problems.

Here’s a news flash – PSD work in Iraq does not translate to executive protection in the US; it’s apples and oranges. You may have been the cock of the walk in Iraq, but in the US, the rules are different. You need to attend a school and learn the realities of state side work. Leave the 511’s in the foot locker and buy some real khaki pants and Polo shirts.

Why do I bring this up, you ask? I have worked in both arenas and I know the differences. I had 60 guys working for me in Iraq and have worked anywhere from one man details to 12 man details in the states. The philosophy is the same, the skill sets are different. Too many times, I have seen guys from the war zone work in the states and attempt to hammer square pegs into round holes. It doesn’t work.

But, it all comes back to leadership. The heads of any and all details have to be able to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of their team and make sure that they never put their people in a position to fail. We all get painted with the same brush if and when a mistake is made.

More importantly, the detail leaders have to make sure that the principals understand what our jobs are and push back when ridiculous requests are made of our people. No, we don’t cook dinner. No, we don’t hang up coats. We are protection specialists. The leadership has to spend the time and energy to make sure that the other employees know what we do. We have to look out for the welfare of our team or we become man servants or woman servants.

Yes, we are in a service industry. Our service is to allow our principals to live as normal a life as possible free from worry. We need to make sure that we always present a professional image. We need to keep our people (both the VIP’s and the team) out of the line of fire.

How do we undo this trend of house managers, wives, whomever from directing our day to day activities? First and foremost, never put your team in a position to look anything other than professional. When comments are made by people not qualified to make them, take the time to educate them. Be polite, but be firm.

Have a meeting with the principal and explain to him or her how and why you are directing your people to do things a certain way. A lack of respect from the principal or his family will quickly encourage others to treat you the same way. Don’t let it happen.

Establish a real chain of command. Make sure that everyone knows to come to the head of the detail with issues, problems, requests, etc.  Make sure these folks are not going directly to your team. Only the head of the detail should be tasking his team with work to be done. Make sure your team tells anybody asking them to do things to run it through you first.

Get rid of the guys or gals on your team that seem to have their agenda ahead of yours.  Beware of those that will try to eat their way to the top. Be firm, but fair. Once somebody has undermined you, they have to go.

Lead from the front; never ask anyone to do something that you wouldn’t or couldn’t do.

This will be a painful war. Guys will lose their jobs as we attempt to put Pandora back in the box. Is your job more important to you than your reputation or self-esteem? It seems in an awful lot of cases that this is true. We need to get back to the basics of being good at what we do and how we do it. While we protect the principals, we also need to protect our teams. I’d rather have the respect of my peer group than kiss the ass of the house manager any day of the week. But, that’s just me.

Frank G. Gallagher has over 20 years of international experience providing personal protection, intelligence gathering, counter-terrorism operations, surveillance detection, threat analysis, and security training in both the private security sector and  the U.S. Military.  He was the Agent in Charge of Ambassador L. Paul Bremer’s security detail in Baghdad, Iraq where he was responsible for the day to day safety and security of the Presidential Envoy.  He was Director of Security for former US Secretary of State, Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, and was responsible for the safety and security of Dr. and Mrs. Kissinger domestically and internationally, publicly and privately.

 

6 Comments

  1. There is still a lot executive protection going on….but in Europe this kind of protection is organized silently and with narrow relationships…as part of the company or family. I do have the opinion that the way of organizing visible bodyguard protection has had its best time. Now technical innovative tools protect the vip better and more effectively. As marktleader in certificated VIP Chauffeur Education in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands do we daily cope with requests to train chauffeurs on this level. The driver is ever there…and he will be trained to analyse the daily aspects in cooperation with the headoffice.

    On the other side: the are hundreds ex soldiers, marines, green barets who offer their services, not knowing how to deal with commercial facts and service. The are not able to innovate in a client friendly way. They think like a marine…and they will always think like a marine. and that does not fit anymore with the actual reality needs.

  2. Ahh, thanks Frank!
    It is great to hear your thoughts and beliefs; I only wish you could type faster so as to have you write more often and hopefully replace the masses of self-proclaimed experts with little experience, if any, a fancy website (which is as easy to develop as a bad rash) and visions of grandeur.

    Unlike 90% of the topics a professional comes across these days it is refreshing to not only read an article that is well written by a highly vetted, disciplined and true professional, but to have a topic addressed that is far more important than smart phone apps, networking methodology, self -promotion or what type of assets one thinks he can provide the target clientele that no one else can….

  3. Frank, Great Article. I coudn’t agree with you more. There are still clients that do not know the difference bewteen a bodyguard and an executive protection agent. Some clients want the unskilled thug. I think we have done a poor job at the Global VP of security and detail leaders level to educate our clients and the public on what is good security. We have given in to clients and become know as the person who cleans up the dog shit in the yard. We have allowed the EP industry to become associated with the gardener, the pool person, or the landscaper vs viewing us on the same level as an attorney or medical doctor. Most security companies as so concerned about getting the job and do not want to rock the boat when they have the job. In addtion many clients don’t know how to manage security so they let someone like an estate manager, assistant, HR person, or finance person manage security and it is not even a job they want to do. Looking forwa

  4. Great read as always,

    Opinion-
    It is always better to walk away from a potential
    employment opportunity when you find out that
    you will not be dealing directly with the principle,
    even if the bills are due, as the increased risk of
    third party management increases your liability.

  5. Good reading….same story for years in all manner of industries. Careerists tend to do whatever it takes, mostly a lot of ass-kissing, to maintain employment, including being wicked freaking charming but, are usually found wanting in the real, usable skill set department. I sometimes refer to them as “tofu” because they take on the flavor already present in the dish. And, after many years, are normally the ones left standing. The good and skilled and knowledgeable and intelligent ones fail to kiss the ass appropriately, or schmooze or charm the client or their appointees and fall by the wayside.

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