INTERVIEW: Raise Your Resiliency with John Livesay

This podcast can be heard and read in full here.

Kris Coleman founded Red Five Security back in 2004 to provide world-class state-of-the-art security and protective intelligence services. He continues to use his knowledge, experience and integrity to grow Red Five into a multifaceted company that focused on bespoke security solutions for unique clientele. He’s also the author of Raise Your Resiliency. Kris has worked in both the private and the public sectors throughout his many-year career and served with the Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI, and is a former principal with Good Harbor Consulting. His depth and range of experiences allow the Red Five team to specialize in high-quality, proactive and discreet security services.

Kris, you’ve worked with both the FBI and the CIA. What a fascinating background that is because after 9/11, a lot of people think those two agencies aren’t known for communicating well-enough, let alone sharing staff or having one career lead to the other. That’s something I want to explore. Before we get into that, let’s let you decide where to tell your own story of origin, where you as a child, growing up and you saw an FBI TV show or a movie or a CIA thing and said, “That’s for me.” How did you get into this world?

I had many different majors in my college career. I was undecided, but I was a great fan of different works by Tom Clancy and other writers that were that whole international entry. I’m looking for a job. I’m trying to figure out what I am doing with my life in college. I went to a career fair. There was a CIA that day. They were like, “We’re looking for people that can be trained, that can think critically, and apply their skills to National Security.” I’m like, “What could go wrong? Let’s go.” I signed up, and they were happy to train me and give me some amazing experiences from the training perspective. That was how we got started. I was trained to do a whole lot of things, as you can imagine. I did a lot of time overseas with that particular organization.

Is there a myth that a lot of people have about what happens at the CIA and/or the FBI that you would like to bust?

It’s not everything that you see on TV and in the movies. I got paid to travel the world and see some amazing things, work with amazing cultures, very diverse experience, and then carry out some of the best work in my career in trying to protect this country in a proactive way. I can’t say enough about my coworkers and my colleagues at both those organizations, CIA and FBI. The dedication, sacrifice, and evidence is in the memorials and it’s in the successes that they’ve had. Both those that are publicized and those that are not. That’s my shout–out to those organizations.

I know you were a member of the FBI Enhanced SWAT team, as well as when you were at the CIA, you were a senior instructor and a team leader. My question is that experience has got to help you with what you’re doing at Red Five. Both in terms of figuring out who’s a good fit for your company and the training that’s required because you touched on that in your story of origin there about, “We’re looking for people who have critical thinking.” That leads to the obvious question for me, which is how do you define what critical thinking is? Everyone has their own version of it. I would love to know yours with your incredible background, being trained in it as well as now using it for your clients.

Both organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to train new employees that are new special agents or new intelligence officers. A lot of that, as we said, is about critical thinking. It understands the psychology of who you’re talking to. It’s being able to empathize with who you’re talking to. When you are an active listener, whether you’re interviewing a potential criminal or you’re investigating a crime or talking to a victim, or perhaps trying to understand someone in an overseas country that may want to work for the US government and for the US government’s interest, you need to understand who they are, where they come from, what their motivations are. When you hear them talk, pick apart what they’re saying to you. Get every little bit and piece of the meaning and the nuance out of the conversation.

Whether you’re reading a piece or doing an interview or talking to someone, critically taking it apart and understanding its totality of what’s being said to you, what’s being communicated is important. We do that when we do our deliverables to our clients. We make sure that those things are very clearly articulated. We mean what we say, and we say what we mean and what we write. We can back it up. It’s not just, “When we went to this place, we saw these things, and we wrote these things down.” It’s like, “This is what this means, and this is why it matters.” That’s important. A lot of our products are like that, “This is what it means. This is why you need to listen to us.”

You’re connecting the dots, you’re not just reporting on facts. You’re putting it through the lens of, “Here’s why we recommend doing this or not doing that because of our in-depth understanding and ability to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes.” This concept that critical thinking includes empathy is fascinating to me. I don’t hear a lot of people saying that. Empathy, storytelling, listening have been labeled sometimes as soft skills. Soft skills can make you strong. It sounds like that’s the direction that you’re also leading that when you have empathy, and you’re this example, that allows you to make those hard skills choices of taking action or not. Whether you can trust someone or not. Can you speak a little bit about how someone can build trust? What’s your red flag when you don’t decide not to trust somebody?

We were trained to look at a whole variety of things when we were talking to people, whether it was interviewing or eliciting information from a foreign source or whatever it might be. There’s a whole element of reading body language, eye contact. Are they leaning forward? Are they speaking in an active voice? Are they hanging back? Are they defensive by turning away? There’s a whole variety of things, eye movement. You’re taking all that in but depending on what your objective is, as the listener, are you trying to help them? Are you trying to recruit them to work for us? Are you trying to get them to confess? Whatever your objectives are of the conversation matter. You need to go into the conversation, knowing what you’re trying to achieve.

In normal daily life, you may not have an objective just to sit down and talk to a friend or to grab a coffee, but in a professional environment, knowing what your objective is and then using empathy to communicate non-verbally as well as verbally with the other person is important. If you want them to work for you, give you information, and collaborate, then that empathy has got to be there. “I understand your current situation.” “No. You need money or you need medical help or whatever it is you need.” In showing that verbally or non-verbally, they’re going to be more likely to collaborate with you, whether they’re a victim, an interview on a witness, or whatever it might be.

One of the services that you offer at Red Five is Private Family and Family Office Security. That’s certainly been in the news with William and Meghan talking about their own security. One of the things that resonated with me was it’s about trust, not about wealth, and that it’s about the mindset. However, you have a whole thing called Measured Risk Management. Can you explain what that is and why it’s important?

We’ve done a lot of work with private families. Since the inception of Red Five many years ago, we’ve been working with high net worth and families that consider themselves more private than others. Discretion is a huge piece of that. We trade and trust. That’s our currency. Our discretion, where we came from in those two organizations. How we know how to keep things quiet and be discreet is important. When you talk about trust, it’s not selling them things they don’t need. There was a big piece of that. There’s a lot of families that have this, “Are you going to give me the Smith family special price?” Which means they’re going to gouge me because I’m wealthy. The reality is we never do that.

We come in and say, “I know you approached us with an emotionally charged problem. This was happening in the family, or this happened to the state that we were in or while we were traveling, but it’s not my place to take advantage of that. It’s my place to solve the problem.” I will approach it in a way that says, “I hear you. I understand this is a problem. Let me provide you some solutions. What you’re telling me I should do as your vendor, as your partner may not be what you need,” that emotional, “I need a protective detail. I need ten people to protect my family.” You may not need that. It was my job to come in level-headed, take a look holistically at the situation, and give you a measured risk management response. You’re not paying for stuff you don’t need. I’m not taking advantage of the situation. I would never do that.

The approach may be that you’re wildly off in the emotional state of the solution you think you needed. You need me and my team to come in and go, “Here’s a measured risk management approach. We’re going to do A, B and C.” It’s not about men and women, earpieces, sunglasses, and suits standing around a black Suburban or a black Escalade. It is about us changing the process of how your domestic staff walks into the house or how you set up your travel arrangements so that people don’t know that you’re traveling. There are many things we can do that are below the radar in a relatively inexpensive that could raise the security of a private family. That Measured Risk Management approach is a big part of us, building that trust, then I’ll be displaying competence and delivering excellence.

It totally leads right into your expertise on resiliency, which can include safe rooms. I see that sometimes on shows and movies, but that part is real from what I can see on your website that certain families and situations do require a safe room. In a way, I never thought of it as a resilient thing, but it’s a backup. Ithas other options. For example, being here in Austin, when the power and the water went out, the airport closed, the roads were icy, didn’t have stuff going on, and the grocery stores were closed, you had a firsthand experience of, “There’s not a lot of resiliency. I can’t zig or zag here. The heat is up, there’s no water, there’s nowhere to go. I can’t fix this with money.” There are many situations of the need for resiliency over and above the pandemic that everyone is taking a look at a whole new way of looking at it. That’s your expertise, isn’t it? It’s analyzing what could go wrong so that there is something that you never find yourself in this situation that so many of us were in Texas when all that happened.

To talk about safe rooms, you’ve seen them in Hollywood movies. It’s this seven–figure, very expensive, extremely elaborate high-tech room that people run to when things go bad and it doesn’t have to be that. We operated in environments overseas where it’s going to be a closet that we throw a bunch of sandbags in on the lower level floor of a building in Bosnia during the war. We’re going to set up defensive positions, and that’s going to be the safe room. In Africa, we used to set up a whole floor of a house. It would be on the upper–level floor. We would have multiple layers of protection, a strong front door, in the hallway, at the top of the stairs, and at the bedroom.

We’re building into that detection element. Is there a problem than a delay element to slowing down, trying to get in the house? You have to get into this concept of neutralization of the threat. Ideally, by the time they’re getting to that 2nd and 3rd layer of the cavalry, it is coming over the hill and they’re going to save the day. Same thing with wealthy families. Not even the wealthy families and private homes in the US. We’re seeing questions and people are coming to us and saying, “We need a safe room because of the riots or because of some of the uncertainty in our neighborhoods.” That doesn’t have to be a million–dollar room. We can talk about simple upgrades to make that a safe room.

People don’t want to sell you that because it’s not expensive and not a big price tag, but it goes back to measured risk management. We’re going to build you what you need. To speak to Austin in the winter polar vortex for easy guys went through. I had a number of examples come in from my colleagues. They were like, “I am making sure my well though that it doesn’t freeze. I am boiling snow. I am working through two different generators to power the house to keep the well warm, keep the TV on, lights on, the refrigerator.” People were taking food out of the freezer and putting it in the front yard because it’s colder outside than it is in the freezer. There are smart things about that. It’s food, water, shelter and self-defense. We start there and make sure that all those things are taken care of by the family.

What that experience taught Texas and should have taught the rest of the country is that our electrical grid is very fragile, also our infrastructure and supply chain. We built all these things so they are efficient. You only get what you need right when you need it. You hit the button and it shows up at the front door. The reality is those networks and those supply chains are extremely fragile because they are at the last minute. They are built that way on purpose. What we need people to do when we talk about this in the book is if each individual family and each individual thought of themselves as resilient self-sufficient, the whole nation becomes more self-sufficient and more resilient. It’s a National Security thing if you ask me. The more families are resilient, then the more resilient we are going to be as a country. We’re looking at hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires in the West, all those things drive resiliency. We need to be more aware and become more resilient.

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