In protective services, the term ‘inside the bubble’ refers to the inner workings of the President of the United States inner circle. It is the operations hub of the activity. Through my book “Inside the Bubble,” I go back to my roots of business and leadership to provide you with a peek under the tent of the common threads shared by highly successful leaders and high performing organizations. While the industries may change, the fundamental factors of success remain constant.
When you peel back the onion and take away style, bravado, and illusion, great leaders all share a common foundation. That foundation is built on vision, inspiration, and execution. The common mortar that holds that platform together is “simplicity as a standard.” However, one fundamental trait that I found absent from many was rejuvenation.
Through the years, I have witnessed many executives who were great at running organizations, but horrible at adding value at home. Others delivered phenomenal business results but left a series of body bags along the way. Without some level of balance in their lives, many become victims of their own success, and it manifests itself in ulcers, high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, and other stress-related illnesses coupled with estranged family relationships and divorces. Those same challenges are also a major concern in the protective services industry. The industry has, unfortunately, learned to erroneously attempt to measure value based on stamina and testosterone versus strategy and sound tactics.
Value-driven leadership doesn’t mean you tolerate underperformance, it just means excellence can be achieved with balance and inspiration and doesn’t require intimidation to garner results. Also, you are not going to intimidate a bunch of type A personalities, which is what we often see in the protective services industry. I don’t believe success and performance have to be punishing for the leader, their employees, families, or for the client relationship either.
As a leader, unless you have clarity in vision, you can never inspire others to follow. People don’t mind being led, as long as they know you understand where you are going. Vision always precedes inspiration. Thus, vision is the only real superpower. As a leader, your job is to make your actions scale. You are no longer a doer per se; you are an enabler of doers, that is your force multiplier.
When it comes to execution, the simpler you can make things, the easier it is to execute them. I remember one day; I was teaching defensive tactics at a bodyguard training academy. I always start by informing the students that engagement is not our objective; courtesy and diplomacy are our greatest assets, and an escape beats an encounter every time. I tell them if we cannot evacuate and we are forced to engage, things must be efficient because if you are engaging – your client is unprotected. Then a student approached me saying, “I wrestled in college, and I can hold my own.”
“Protective services is not about wrestling,” I responded.
“But you don’t understand, I wrestled for three years in college and lettered all three years.”
I smiled and said, “I understand.”
He continued, “What would you do if someone grabbed you like this?” He then grabbed me by the arm and shoulders and proceeded to attempt to wrestle me. I immediately put my thumb in his eye.
He turned me loose immediately and yelled, “Ouch that hurt! What did you do that for?”
I answered, “I told you protective services is not about wrestling. My objective was for you to break contact and turn me loose immediately, you did. Putting my thumb in your eye was the simplest, most effective action that would bring about immediate results. It is also size and strength neutral. No matter how big the attacker or how small the person being attacked, it works.”
Simplicity is always the goal; how do you standardize the process, so it works for all members of the protective team?
Eric Konohia, an agency owner, and phenomenal protection specialist has a way of simplifying one of the key components of the protective advance, the site advance. He has his team focus on just four questions, especially if it’s a hasty advance:
- How do I get in?
- Where do I put my stuff?
- How do I get out?
- Where do I go if things turn bad (safe haven)?
There are always a multitude of things employees can be doing in your business, however, there are only a handful of things that actually drive your business, client satisfaction, or enhance the protective strategy. That is where you must place the organization’s focus.
The following passages (taken from my book “Inside the Bubble”) have been selected specially to help readers achieve growth through focus and balance. I have split it across four core sections:
- The Things That Really Matter
If you look at the best performing organizations, whether they are business organizations, sports teams, or high performing military units, they all have found ways to standardize success. Whether it is a corporate bench strength program or a sports farm system.
Long-term, sustainable results can never be achieved through random acts of brilliance. They can only be achieved through an ongoing commitment to excellence and standardizing success.
High performing organizations continuously share best practices in protective services this is often achieved via the ‘hot washes’ or after-action reviews. What separates the top 5% from the top 25% is consistency. Both do great things; the top 5% just do them more frequently. When you share and standardize best practices, you allow the top 25% to perform at a higher level (often like a five or ten percenter).
Because of their competitive drive, the top 5% will continue to charge harder and work even smarter as they enjoy being high performers. So, high tide floats all boats, and success becomes contagious.
Your clients receive value from activating your agency’s services, so when you help your clients accomplish their objectives, funding your security initiatives becomes a necessary by-product. That is why we have post orders and standard operating procedures to ensure we consistently deliver value and results.
One of the most evident signs of a high-performing organization is how it manages underperformance. Managing with courage does not mean managing by intimidation. It is managing with clarity, honesty, and objectivity. The focus is on performance and performance enhancement, not personality.
Unlike antiquated management models wherein excessive amounts of time were placed with non-performers, today, most high-performing organizations and agencies represent ‘up or out cultures.’ They set their focus and time with those who are having a positive impact on the business.
The ‘best of breed’ find ways to trim the fat of underperforming employees. They focus on correcting skill issues; they don’t waste time with will issues. Training fixes skill issues. Only honest, candid feedback and performance improvement plans can address will issues. The acid test is if I threatened you with severe bodily harm if you didn’t perform the task and you can do it, then it is not a skill issue. It is a will issue.
If, after initial training, we have an employee who previously added value, but cannot step up to the new requirements of the job, then we must identify where their skills are best utilized in the organization. Focus on reassignment rather than outplacement. That may mean moving them from the role of a protection specialist to that of a security driver. Don’t tolerate negativity or insubordination.
I have seen many potentially great protection teams ruined my highly skilled agents with bad attitudes or a sense of entitlement. Don’t waste time with negativity or people who are not committed to the success of the protection team or client. Negativity drains the energy of the unit.
In one of his books on leadership, General Colin Powell says, “I hate weak generals. They talk behind your back and undermine the success of mission or unit.” They should be cut out like a cancer because if they will undermine the leader, they will undermine the team and, ultimately, the client.
As a leader, we should encourage an open-door policy and sharing points of view. The best solutions are often created by those closest to the client, so never suppress feedback. As the agency or detail leader, you still reserve the ability to say no and implement your individual strategy. That is the accountability that comes with responsibility.
However, never tolerate insubordination. And once the decision is made, then we all must move in the same direction with no additional discussion outside of execution.
At some point, in all of our lives, we reach a point of stagnation, plateau, or comfort. Whether it is the result of signing a large contract, receiving a large lump sum pay-out (severance package, insurance settlement, lottery win), or other windfalls, eventually, all good things will come to an end.
One of my clients, a multimillionaire business executive, and entrepreneur says it best, “Don’t run out of runway.”
Stay busy. Always maintain a sense of urgency and purpose. Focus on developing multiple “what if” scenarios in your go-forward strategy as you prepare for the next juncture in your life. The best time to start working on that plan is right now. The longer you wait, the longer you risk running out of runway and never allowing your idea or the opportunity to take off.
Just remember, planning is a passive action. Until the plan actually goes into implementation, it is just another great idea.
On the Things that Really Matter
What we do for a living doesn’t constitute our lifestyle. Just as we provide comfort and value to our clients, we also have to make sure we are taking care of our home. The long hours and ongoing travel can be hell on a relationship and family. Before you consider an opportunity with extensive travel, make sure your family has full disclosure of the requirements of the job and the sacrifices you all will collectively have to make.
It has been proven many times over, direct deposit, and the perceived glamour of a job is not enough to hold a family or relationship together. A less-traveled spouse may not understand there is no joy in long security lines, delayed flights, bad airplane food, and small seats. But remember, your family’s perception is their reality. So, that is all that matters.
If your job is security-focused and you’re not able to bring your loved one along, consider using Skype or other video chat services so you can connect face to face. If you can’t connect face to face, the good ol’ surprise postcard from afar is another way to let them know they are on your mind. When you get back home, don’t forget to take some personal time with those you love. Not only do they want to hear about your trip, they genuinely want to see you and tell you what has been happening in their lives. Show the same genuine interest in things going on in their worlds as what is happening in yours.
Your most important ‘principal’ is the family you leave behind when you grab your go-bag. If things are out of balance at home, it will filter over into your assignment. It will manifest itself in lack of focus, loss of attention to detail, lack of sleep, service failures with your client, and lack of adherence to your standard safety protocols or operating procedures. Never be so focused on getting stamps on your passport that you miss stamping the most critical destination called home.
Clients will come and go, but we only have one family, and we will never have another opportunity to capture those important moments in our children’s lives. While they may always smile and say, mom or dad, it’s okay, deep down, when the other kids had their parents around, they missed you. Never let your job make you lose focus on the things that really matter.
When you burn the candle on both ends, it burns twice as bright but half as long. Learn to allow yourself time to recharge the engine. Use your vacation time, you have earned it. Studies have shown unless you allow yourself time to recharge the batteries, you are actually limiting your ability to maximize your performance. As we grow in our careers, we stop getting paid by the hour and start getting paid on output. So, complete the project, and take some time to clear your head,
rest the body and come back fresher than ever. This will increase your capacity, and better prepare you for the next big detail or task.
This article is an excerpt from Inside the Bubble, “Lessons Learned from a Life in Business and Protective Services”
Leading for the Future
By: Mark “Six” James CPO, EPS, CAS
Mark “Six” James is Founder and Executive Director of Panther Protection Services, LLC. He is an internationally published author, keynote speaker, security consultant to educational institutions and frequent contributor to a number of print, broadcast and online media, and the author of a number of security, firearm and protection publications. Panther Protection Services is a full-service protection agency focusing on Risk and Crisis Mitigation, Protective Services, Self-Defense Training, and Firearm Instruction.