The career path for many protectors in the security industry often starts with a position as an operator on the ground. Eventually, there is usually a promotion to a position as a security manager or a detail team leader. As a new manager in one of these roles, the rising stars of the security industry then face one of the most challenging situations that leaders can face in any field. How do you balance the professional development of the members on your team without compromising the security of the building or the principal you are tasked with protecting? Progressing from the ranks of the operator to a team leader comes with a steep learning curve and is a transition in which the new manager must be able to maintain this balance. Keeping in mind that intuition, as defined by the father of recognition-primed decision-making, Dr. Gary Klein, “depends on the use of experience to recognize key patterns to recognize key patterns that indicate the dynamics of the situation” (Klein, 31), the question security leaders to answer is, how do you develop the judgment and critical thinking capabilities of the members of your team? How do you evaluate someone else’s plan without micromanaging and stunting their development?

There is a right way and a wrong way to assess the effectiveness of someone else’s plan of attack. The right way is to use the situation as a teaching experience. The wrong way is to hear the plan that someone created and give him or her a simple yes or no answer. There were times as a new Marine officer where a plan I had made was denied without explanation. There were times when my ideas were shot down because it wasn’t how my boss would have done it, and that was that. At the same time, there were situations where I was approved to do something, only to have my boss play Monday-morning quarterback after the plan was executed and hear them say that they foresaw the problems experienced, even if they didn’t mention them during the briefing. Since leadership involves making the members of your team better, simple yes or no answers without feedback on what could have been done differently are the wrong ways to evaluate a plan. To find a better way to develop someone through their planning, consider the six steps in Dr. Gary Klein’s recognition-primed decision-making (RPD) model.

The six steps[i] that a person goes through when making intuitive decisions, according to Klein, are:

  1. Create a plan that accomplishes the task
  2. Decide if that plan actually solves the problem
  3. Conduct a mental rehearsal and visualize the plan being executed
  4. Identify problem areas
  5. Improve the plan
  6. Execute the plan

From setting up a security plan, considering how you will conduct an advance of a location, while doing route planning, or figuring out how you are going to brush your teeth when you realize you are out of toothpaste in the morning, these six steps establish the mental process that you are constantly using to solve problems and accomplish tasks. The benefit from looking at plans and determining the likelihood of success using these steps allows you to evaluate a plan and figure out where you can coach the person who formulated the plan into better performance. If you are going to make a plan better, focusing on the first and fourth steps will provide the greatest return on investment in time and effort, as well as help you explain what made the plan well or badly.

The first step of evaluating a plan is to ask yourself whether the plan solves the problem or accomplishes the goal? You aren’t asking if this is how you would solve the problem and you aren’t asking whether this is the best possible solution. You are only asking if it is a satisfactory way to solve the problem being faced. If you believe the initial plan could be improved, consider the factors that lead to a plan in the first place. Plans come from perceptions about the plausible goals for successful outcome, the relevant cues and information the situation will provide and what the person expects to encounter once on scene. This is one area where experienced professionals distinguish themselves from novices because someone with a lot of experience is going to size up the situation more accurately than a novice, as they have more expansive professional experiences. If a plan fails to account for any of the dynamics of the situation, by coaching the team member through what they can expect on scene, their plan should improve naturally as soon as that uncertainty is removed. If the plan accounts for all of these factors, even if it is different than the way you would handle it, it is still a sound plan at this point.

The second area where plans can be improved is in the fourth step, areas where the plan could go wrong. Have the briefer conduct a pre-mortem and imagine that the plan has already been executed and failed. Have them answer the question of what happened to make this failure occur? As the briefer walks you through the potential failure points, listen to the issues they have already accounted for. If the plan can be improved upon, there is likely one of two scenarios in play. The first is that because of a lack of security planning experience, the planner simply can’t envision all of the problem areas. Through the use of “what if” questions and scenarios, you should be able to get them to see a situation they didn’t consider. Once that possibility is raised, they are more than capable of updating their plan as needed. The second reason why a person might not have accounted for a problem is because they encountered a problem but a solution wasn’t readily available, causing them to either push it aside or over-engineer a solution. Both of these situations are ones that can be planned through and that create opportunities for the new manager to coach the more junior team member through the planning process effectively, thoroughly, and in the most beneficial way possible.

The process of identifying and analyzing the six steps supporting intuitive decisions creates opportunities for managers, whether new or experienced, to provide valuable feedback and coaching to their most promising team members. Instead of assuming that authority comes from only giving a blind yes or no response to plans and withholding constructive feedback or ways to improve the plan, leaders who take the time to teach their team how to improve their plans will build their future capabilities.

A common method is for a team leader to provide an opportunity for a junior member on their team to create the security plan for an assignment as this creates the opportunity to provide feedback and mentorship from real-life examples.

[i] These six steps are an over-simplified version of the RPD model, and we absolutely recommend that professionals read Gary Klein’s Sources of Power, to learn more about how experts and first responders make intuitive decisions in dynamic situations.


Klein, G. (1999). Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.