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. Because 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.
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 more than a checkers fan: They are used to thinking several moves ahead so that they can shape outcomes proactively rather than deal reactively with adverse situations. We believe forward thinking is so important to quality executive protection that we have made it one of our guiding principles – and even part of our logo.
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.
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 travelling, 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 (notably: the paying client who has other options) to meet their needs. It’s not about you meeting your needs.
If executive protection agents are not comfortable working in a job where the needs of the client take precedence over their own, then they should start looking for other work. Because 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 wellbeing. The other 15% of the time is spent writing up after-action reviews and expense reports. (Yes, we’ve noticed that it 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. They may have even washed the car between bites of a plastic sandwich.
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.
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.
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.
Empathy starts with being aware of other people’s feelings, then considering their feelings when we take action. 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.
Empathic 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.
But 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, too, 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.
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 children 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. They might get to go to lots of parties, but they are the designated driver every time.
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.