I’ve been working in the field of protection operations and training for over two decades now. While a lot of it has been on the public sector side, I do have a significant amount of experience in the private sector. I’d like to share with you some comparisons of both sectors and why I think mentoring in executive protection might be the missing element to your development as well as the answer to many of the larger industry challenges.
Observations on the Problem
I’m in a lot of online and offline networks in the field of Executive Protection. In these areas, I see a lot of people complaining about the same things and even more people asking similar questions, with often questionable responses. At first, this was just a casual observation, but then it became more prevalent. Since I’m not the kind of person to pass a problem without developing a solution, I started to dissect the issues and look for improvements.
One thing I found interesting when I started to look closer at the operational challenges of the industry, was how many of the problems people were having or were seeing seemed like common sense. Since I know that common sense isn’t all that common, I started to reflect on my own experiences from the lens of identifying my own growth path. I realized that I too have experienced the same or similar issues early on in my career.
However, I was fortunate enough to have several respected senior advisors along the way who helped to set me straight. When I looked at this even closer, most of those experiences occurred under the framework of a public sector organization outside of a formal training environment. It was essentially informal on and off-the-job development. Something that is often lacking or very limited in the private sector of EP.
Public Sector Indirect Corrective Infrastructure
One of the things many people don’t realize is there are a lot of informal development components deeply embedded into the infrastructure of public sector protection organizations. These are employers like the Military, Law Enforcement Agencies and other Public Security entities with significant depth to them.
Let’s look at the path you might take by working for one of these organizations. First, after being hired, you’re likely to go through some form of basic or recruit training. Then once complete, you’re going to end up on the job; likely working under the supervision of someone else, as well as in and around other people. If you’re lucky, there may even be a somewhat formalized on-the-job training (OJT) program or field training phase.
If not, you’re still going to be fortunate enough to see multiple ways of doing something over a significant period of time. Additionally, along the way you’re going to have the opportunity to see what “right” looks like and more importantly, to be corrected when you do something wrong. As you progress in your career the cycle will repeat itself. You will work, take courses, apply what you’ve learned, and be corrected when you make mistakes.
Experienced EP Professionals as Mentors
This cycle may seem obvious to some and completely foreign to others. I can assure you, with the larger organizations it is also a deliberate act, or you would do all of your entire career and specialty courses at the beginning of your career. It’s also worth noting that many people see formal training as something designed to answer all their questions.
Personally, I like to see it differently. I would suggest in addition to preparing you to safely, effectively and professionally conduct your duties; formal training is also there to prepare you for the job by giving you a baseline for the next stage of learning. Essentially preparing you to know which questions to ask when you get on the job (coincidently a key element to mentoring).
There are many benefits to this embedded informal development structure of public sector organizations. For the organization, the job gets done to a high standard and individuals at all levels grow professionally and exponentially. Additionally, the results are much greater if there are dominant, highly capable leaders. However, many of those leaders are not always in supervisory or management positions. They are just experienced professionals with a wealth of knowledge and who are open to sharing it with those willing to listen (aka mentors and mentees).
The Private Executive Protection Issue
While many large private companies or corporate EP positions likely have many similarities to the public sector, those organizations aren’t necessarily where the problem exists. The problem with consistency in operation and professional conduct often lies in the path many people take at the beginning of their EP careers.
They first start by taking a fundamental EP course, and then look for a job. Unfortunately for them, most long-term corporate or contract EP employers (with the depth to develop someone on the job) will not take a chance on individuals fresh out of an EP school. This means the individual is likely to seek as many opportunities as possible to break into the industry, which often involves many short-term contracts or less than ideal ground-floor opportunities.
A Lack of Feedback
The problem with this part of the industry is the level of exposure, experience and feedback is often lacking. In my experience there is little time to forge developmental relationships or for individuals to grow in these short-term contracts.
There is also little room for error and less room for adjusting people’s deficiencies. Usually what happens is someone works a gig, then they either get a call back or they don’t. That call back is the only gauge of doing a good job (actually you either did a good job or you were the only one available).
However, the problem as it relates to the industry lies in the lack of call back or more importantly the lack of feedback. Most people will never know why they did not get the call back. This means they have to fend for themselves regarding what right and wrong look like.
It also means their reputation might take a hit, as there is potential for them to get branded as “trash,” when in reality they just didn’t get an opportunity to learn from or fix their deficiencies. In my opinion, this is where we need to do better.
The Proposed Solution
I would like to propose a solution to this problem from a couple of perspectives. First, from the perspective of people employing EP agents who want to develop capable individuals and teams. If you have some clients and provide protection services to them, look for places where you can position new people with a little margin of error. Also, look to assign them under the guidance of a trained and experienced senior team member with competent development capabilities.
In the public sector, these people are often field training officers or senior operational members with an instructor background. Then guide these new people along the path to success. Essentially, I’m suggesting you develop a somewhat deliberate program of mentoring in executive proteciton by looking for the right contracts and assigning the right people to be responsible for the new members.
Please keep in mind I’m by no means suggesting using VIP clients as a training ground for new employees. Most training and development needs to come outside the operational world. But at some point in time, people need real-world experience and that experience will be much better if structured properly, under the oversight of a great mentor.
The other solution comes from the new practitioner. You are in a difficult place, as you need significant experience to get great work, but very few people will take a chance on you with their most valuable clients (nor should they, until you’re proven capable and trustworthy). You must therefore pursue your own development and that starts with recognizing you have something to learn (and that mindset will help you leave your ego at the door and open your mind to learning new perspectives). I highly recommend you do not just take a fundamental EP course and then consider yourself “one and done”.
Passive Mentoring in Executive Protection
You need to acquire as much knowledge as possible, while you pursue employment opportunities. The good news is there is a significant amount of formal training out there and even more industry leaders from whom you can gain “passive mentoring” in executive protection. Seek out these leaders and hear what they have to say from their various output methods.
This might involve reading their books or blogs, listening to their podcasts, following their social channels and more. You should also look to invest beyond what they put out there for free. The best leaders in the industry are putting out great free content but what they charge for is even more valuable to you.
In my experience, those newest to the industry as well as those extremely experienced are actually the ones most open to learning new things. An additional problem exists with people who have had some experience and a glimpse of success. If you’re one of those folks, then I suggest you reflect on that and make sure you’re still learning from others.
You may have a good thing going now, but that will not last for long if you’re not growing. Locating and following the advice of a good mentor will be very beneficial to you and rarely involves a significant investment.
As experienced EP practitioners, it’s easy for us to think we got where we are on our own and were magically capable of extreme awesomeness. If you’ve had a great career and have achieved successful career milestones, you owe it to the industry to recognize how you developed and then use those lessons to help the next generation of professionals.
If you’re just starting or have been around for a bit, you need to recognize your future capability and success will come from embracing the lessons learned from others. Mentoring in executive protection occurs when the experienced and inexperienced come together in an environment conducive to growth. The outcomes of those relationships are also extremely beneficial, not just for the mentee, but also for the mentor and the industry
If you have experience in EP and are in a position to help someone grow, I highly recommend you put yourself out there as a mentor. Take deliberate actions to help someone learn the requirements of the job beyond the fundamentals gained on an EP course. If you’re looking to grow, I also suggest you reach out to industry leaders and/or seek out their available content, then learn from their lessons.
An Opportunity for Mentoring in Executive Protection
They say that experience is the product of mistakes endured over time. If that’s the case then I must have a lot of experience as I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I am fortunate that they were never grave mistakes and that I learned from all of them. If you want to save yourself some time and grief with your own career path while learning from my mistakes, accomplishments and other insights, then please get in touch.
We are working on a new development program for the fall and we’re looking for individuals to get involved. If you’ve read this far in the article then you likely have the motivation we are looking for. You can contact me directly by completing this contact form or connect with me on LinkedIn. Please be safe out there, keep developing and stay connected.