Being a solo protector in the executive protection industry can be very rewarding and extremely challenging. However, the comfort of having large EP teams is nonexistent, and one must be very reliant upon soft skills to achieve proper protection of their respective clients. The solo protector is essentially a “jack of all trades.” Your focus is on providing close protection of principals and their assets, but also on protecting their reputation and managing their daily lives.
What this looks like differs from client to client. We all see the Hollywood, glamourous portrayal of solo protectors in the movie Man on Fire. The great Denzel Washington plays the protagonist in this movie. He has the task of protecting a young child in the heart of Mexico, where kidnapping for ransoms is a typical daily concern amongst the wealthy elites of Mexican business society. This movie is action-packed and full of theatrical portrayals.
The above description sums up the Hollywood idea of solo executive protection versus reality. Unfortunately, Hollywood has created a flawed and romanticized idea of what executive protection/bodyguard work is about.
Outgrowing the Movies
The reality of solo EP work is less glamourous and much more mundane contrary to pop culture. However, it is an advantageous industry when you’re in the proper gig. I see so many so-called solo protectors on social media, overinflating their work or taking pics with clients to show how cool they are. These images also provide a false sense of the reality of our profession.
I’d elect to say that our job is .1% action and 99.9% sitting around waiting on the client. We’re not out killing crooked Mexican cops or chasing bad guys through the woods with our eyes shut while shooting (Kevin Costner reference).
Let’s be better than the movies and chalk it up what our profession really is. A quiet, professional service that provides world-class protection for human beings. Not running and gunning or falling in love with our clients, although there are a few examples of this happening in real life.
The Intricacies of Client Work
As solo protectors, we become very intimate in our principal’s businesses and personal lives. As a result, we learn their likes and dislikes very quickly in our jobs. However, truly knowing your clients will take time and building trust with them.
For example, if you’re on a temp or short-term gig, it might be hard to know that a particular client likes a specific temperature in their vehicle or what type of music they like to listen to while in their downtime. But knowing this type of information will go a long way even if the job is temporary.
Keeping mental and physical notes of their intricacies will help you perform better at your job. Over time you will learn their strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, what makes them happy, and what makes them upset. Having this knowledge is just another soft skill to have for your repertoire. Learn who your client is and isn’t, become intimate with their lives but not overbearing.
All of us in the protection industry know that:
- Schedules change,
- Events do not play out as expected, and
- Clients/principals can change their minds on activities at the drop of a hat.
Learning to adapt to these changes is key to being successful in this industry for the long term. Being able to anticipate possible changes comes with having a good advance survey in place. Whether that is doing a digital advance or a physical one, this will help the practitioner anticipate possible changes.
On Getting Fired
Now, if you’re like me, being a solo protector may be more difficult, but being proactive in your downtime is critical for success.
As with any protection role ― especially as a solo protector ― change is okay. Don’t let the “kink in your plan” get to you. Learning to adapt to a client’s erratic behavior or a sudden schedule change comes with having a proactive work ethic and strong emotional intelligence.
Resources such as personal assistants, secretaries, other EP team members, drivers, estate managers, etc., help anticipate changes. Use the tools you have at your disposal, which comes with establishing a solid relationship with such resources.
One of the fastest ways to be fired from a job as a solo protector is behavior.
Whether you’re a solo-EP practitioner or on a large security detail for a private family, individual, or corporation, you must conduct your behavior with the utmost integrity and civility.
Leave politics, hot topic issues, disagreements, egos at the door once you step foot into that protective bubble. Maintaining a high level of professionalism and having the most honorable character in the room is a must in this industry.
In general, solo EP practitioners and protection professionals constantly face inflated egos, good and bad situations, and easy and difficult principals. One must maintain a consistent and civil character in all situations.
On Dressing Well
Dress is another aspect of the solo protection game that many do not think is a big issue. If you come from the military, the days of being kitted out or in full combat gear are over. However, even if you come from PSD (Private Security Details) or covert protection teams, dress is the key to success in the solo protection game.
“Dress as your principal does” is what I hear from many people in the EP industry. This has merit, but sometimes you need to blend into the environment that you’re working in. Most days, your principal/client may be in a suit depending on their economic, public, and/or business lifestyle.
You, as the solo protector, may not necessarily need to wear a suit, given the style and level of protection you’re providing. Covert EP is about blending into your environment. The bottom line is to blend in and be one with your respective environment. Dress the part and be the part.
Time management skills are an essential tool for the solo practitioner. Taking advantage of the gaps and downtime in your principal’s schedule to conduct advances, protective intelligence gathering, vehicle maintenance, or personal development skills is key.
These breaks in the schedule are perfect times to catch up on daily activities that are normally done by a full EP team. Being a solo practitioner is one of the most challenging EP assignments, no matter how skilled you are or how easy your principal is to work for.
In conclusion, being a solo EP practitioner is a daunting and overwhelming job at times. However, one can alleviate the complexities that a larger team can handle with ease by applying time management skills, reliance upon household staff, executive administration personnel, and personal assistance to aid in the effort of protecting your principal(s).
Being a solo practitioner is a very rewarding job. You sometimes get to travel as if you’re one of the family members. But remember, you are not and must keep this in mind when engaging with your principal(s).
I have learned a lot in this past year by being a solo protector. I have learned more in one year about protection than I have in the past 15 years in this industry. It’s a very lonely job, but it is, in my opinion, the ultimate test of a protector’s mind, resilience, and overall emotional intelligence when faced with the protection of another human’s life.