Leadership Culture of Paramount Importance to Security Sector

01/06/2011 04:22 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Strong leadership is critical to every employee at every level in the security industry. At AlliedBarton Security Services, leadership is much more than a corporate slogan or philosophy. It is essential to daily service delivery at all locations and with every interaction with customers and the general public. Whether in the case of a front line security officer assisting with a lost child or a manager developing emergency procedures for a new client site, the urgency for leadership is the same.

The physical security industry depends entirely on the quality of its people. I could point to many product and service companies that have built world-renowned leadership brands, but I don't believe there is a sector where developing leaders is more important than physical security, whose primary focus is to protect people and assets. Physical security leaders are hard-working, highly trained men and women who are called to serve as our country's first responders, and who have a wide range of skills and the ability to interact professionally and respectfully with all types of people and situations.

At AlliedBarton Security Services, our ongoing commitment to our leadership culture and to developing leaders throughout the organization is woven throughout everything we do. Leadership development begins as early as recruiting as we look to align individuals who have leadership potential. From there, the leadership journey is launched immediately. Each new employee at AlliedBarton receives a copy of our Dare to be GREAT Blueprint for Success. It outlines our core values and philosophy pertaining to leadership, vision and teamwork. It also highlights the core purpose of our organization, to serve and secure the people, homes and businesses of our communities. We detail our ideal culture and provide management, operational and security officer mandates that we all live by. Our desired leadership culture highlights critical characteristics and attributes that we demand of our employees to be successful and achieve greatness.

And that initial introduction to our culture is just the beginning. Because leadership is fully a part of our culture, there are learning paths, performance management systems, mentorships and recognition programs designed to support and cultivate leaders at all levels of the company.

Employees must know what is expected of them and know that their company will support them as they perform their duties. If you have well-trained, empowered and engaged employees, you will have satisfied customers who keep coming back. A Gallup poll revealed that strong leadership positively increases employee attitude by 10 percent and customer service by four percent. "Our organization has grown substantially and our future growth will continue to accelerate," says Jim Gillece, Chief People Officer and Senior Vice President of Human Capital Management at AlliedBarton. "This level of growth demands that we have 'ready now' leaders who are ready to occupy the next rung of the leadership ladder."

AlliedBarton was founded in 1957 and has grown from a regional company with a few hundred employees to the largest American-owned physical security company with more than 50,000 employees across 100 offices nationwide. Creating a leadership culture at AlliedBarton ensures that we are developing customer-focused leaders who are committed to fulfilling our core purpose. During my career in law enforcement and security, I've been fortunate to have had several great managers who offered me leadership and mentorship. While I'm CEO today, I treasure my mentor relationships with past supervisors, and even hired Frank Rodrique, who served as my Sergeant at the Upper Merion Township Police Department three decades ago, to work as a quality assurance manager at AlliedBarton because of his ability to command leadership and develop leaders.

The heart and soul of the physical security business are the nation's 850,000 contract security officers who assume leadership roles - sometimes with lifesaving ramifications - at facilities across the country. According to the Freedonia Group, the number of officers employed by private security firms is expected to increase 4.8 percent per year to 1.1 million in 2012. Our country's growing numbers of security professionals are often the first line of defense against civil unrest, violence and terrorist attacks. We must ensure these men and women receive continual training and learning opportunities that ensure that opportunities for leadership are embraced.

An exemplary AlliedBarton leader is James S. Wood, who serves as an account manager for a community college in Maryland. A United States Army Sergeant, police officer and member of the National Guard, Wood returned from military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide leadership to a loyal cadre of more than 30 supervisors and officers. Wood leads his team by example with a focus on training, discipline and a commitment to outstanding customer service. "Through training and day-to-day management, my team embraces their leadership roles in a culture that is dedicated to providing outstanding customer service," said Wood. "My team knows I will not ask them to do anything that I am not willing to do myself. Dragging your feet is not what a client wants. If you have a problem, you address it, tell the client how it will be resolved and work toward solving the problem."

"Security officers assume leadership accountability each and every day, even if they do not have a direct report," says Mimi Lanfranchi, Senior Vice President of National Accounts, who started her career as an investigative specialist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Security officers are sometimes put in high-risk situations as they confront and detain criminals engaged in theft, trespassing, gang activity and every other manner of unlawful behavior that occurs where people congregate on a daily basis. The essential quality of our security service is defined by the leadership our officers demonstrate."

Training and quality leadership are reflected in the heroic actions of our officers on the job. Security Officer James Cariddi, for example, responded quickly when a vehicle carrying two infants went into the Connetquot River that flows along the Dowling College campus. The two infants were rescued by Cariddi, a retired corrections officer from the New York City Department of Corrections.

A leadership culture also needs to honor the contributions of its administrative personnel who provide support behind the scenes. Bonnie Laky, Director of Quality Assurance, recently celebrated 25 years with AlliedBarton. Bonnie has held many titles including sales secretary, operations secretary, and administrative assistant to a division president and quality assurance manager. Whatever title she has held, she demonstrates her leadership attributes with a proactive approach and can-do attitude.

Lanfranchi, who joined AlliedBarton ten years ago as a Vice President of Business Development, says that leadership opportunities abound for people who utilize the tools and resources at their disposal. "An organization of our size, that is geographically dispersed with employees at client sites, branch offices, satellite sites and virtual offices, demands that employees clearly understand what is expected of them and make the most of all the training opportunities that are offered."

Immersion in a culture that promotes constant development encourages employees who may start standing post at an entry level position to work their way up through the company with the support of the organization. Those who have worked their way up to management or executive positions are encouraged to reach out and help others do the same. Organizations that value leadership at all levels ensure that development opportunities are available for employees at all levels. Our front line employees and security officers complete voluntary training because they want to increase their knowledge and further their careers.

As CEO, I believe it is important to lead by example and set the standard in creating a leadership organization that fosters the leaders of tomorrow. I am personally committed to participating in several business and management courses through Harvard Business Publishing this year, and have invited everyone on my management team to do likewise. Learning is critical to developing employees who can grow with the company, respond to unexpected challenges and service customers to levels beyond their expectations. Organizations that create leaders empower employees to be competitive in our 21st century society so they can continue to be relevant, challenged, engaged and productive.