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EXCLUSIVE: The chess game

Chess piece - security leadership

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Security Consultant Sean A. Ahrens, CPP discusses the journey through the labyrinth of life and security leadership.

Start of the journey

Throughout my professional journey, security management has been a consistent thread, even though it wasn’t initially the career path I envisioned for myself; my original aspiration was to delve into law enforcement.

My journey began at Western Illinois University (WIU), a highly regarded institution recognized for its strong track record in preparing students for law enforcement careers.

Despite my initial aim of becoming a Police Officer, my profound affinity for dogs steered me towards the specialized role of a canine officer. However, a significant shift occurred.

The end of Operation Desert Storm led to a sudden influx of military canine trainers in the US, which had a significant impact on the availability of trained canines and handlers.

The scarcity of these resources made the role of a canine officer highly sought after, consequently driving up the cost of dogs.

As an increasing number of handlers transitioned into the private sector, the canine market experienced a swift growth spurt. I expected this boom and the inevitable market saturation it would lead to, prompting a reconsideration of my career path.

The ripple effects of this market expansion are clear today, with virtually all major police departments boasting at least one, if not more, canine units.

During this transformative period, I remember having an earnest conversation with my father in my dorm room, discussing my apprehensions and the impending decision I needed to make.

A week following our discussion, my father shared an article featuring Sako & Associates, a security consulting firm. I reached out to Bill Sako and eventually found myself in his office and securing this opportunity to learn about security consulting.

Midway through my internship there, I expressed an interest in learning more about security design. I was assigned to a team member and given the opportunity to assist with my first tall-tower security project.

After my stint at Sako, I ventured to a different architectural firm and subsequently joined another prestigious firm and observed it’s unfortunate downfall.

I then joined a company where I was sternly informed that I had six months to be billable or risk losing my job. Despite these trials, I consider myself fortunate to have worked alongside some brilliant security professionals and to have landed in a firm that feels like home.


Life, in its infinite wisdom, has a way of unfolding a path for us, often far removed from our initial plans.

Reflecting upon my journey, I recognize that outcomes which seemed adverse in the moment have, in retrospect, paved the way for experiences that have profoundly shaped my life and opened doors to opportunities beyond my wildest dreams.

Take, for instance, the painful loss my mother suffered when her son-in-law died tragically in an accident – taken from us too soon.

The sorrowful wake was a time of shared grief and, amid this painful moment, my mother insisted I provide comfort to his bereft fiancée. This was a task I was initially hesitant to take on, apprehensive about how it might be perceived.

Sean Ahrens - leadership
Sean Ahrens and wife

Later, again, I found myself reluctant when my mother insisted that I attend a housewarming party for my mom’s late son’s fiancée.

However, upon her insistence, I agreed. Little did I know that this gathering would lead me to the woman who would become my wife, forever altering the course of my life.

This beautiful twist in my life story would never have unfolded without the tragic loss that preceded it.

So, yes, life indeed has a plan. It’s a journey, not a destination. Embrace the trials and tribulations, for they are but steppingstones leading you towards triumph.


An influential leader and friend at my current organization imparted a priceless lesson on leadership that ultimately fostered a profound sense of commitment to my company, one that remains unwavering to this day.

I had only been with my current employer for a few months when my father had a terrible fall, leading to his hospitalization.

When I turned up at the office the following week, my boss, aware of the circumstances, approached me with a question that took me by surprise: “Why are you here?” I responded, explaining that I was working on a proposal. What came next was a testament to his leadership. He simply said: “You have a laptop; you have a hot-spot – go be with your father.”

Heeding his words, I left the office, ultimately spending the next two months by my father’s side while assisted my mother in caring for my father and worked remotely.

I was given the precious opportunity to serve my father a final piece of key-lime pie, a memory I cherish, before he peacefully passed away the following morning.

My employer offered me an invaluable gift – time with my father. The compassion shown by my company has made me loyal to a fault. I’ve never once felt the need to update my resume or respond to recruitment offers.

The lesson I’ve learned is that true leadership extends beyond the confines of the workplace. If you truly know your team, their concerns, their personal trials, and if you’re present when they need you most, you’ll foster a level of engagement that no survey can measure. It’s this emotional bond that truly motivates and binds a team together.


Regardless of whether you currently occupy a leadership or administrative role, certain fundamental truths underpin successful staff management and the accomplishment of you or your organization’s mission, goals or directives.

These include the necessity for a clear vision and strategy, coupled with an empathetic understanding of your staff’s perspectives.

The most significant accomplishment for a leader is to unlock the potential within their staff, paving the way for their success.

It’s essential for staff members to understand that making mistakes is part of the learning process. Leaders should delegate tasks that not only challenge their team but also spark their interest, all the while serving as a safety net to provide support when needed.

A successful leader equips their staff with the resources and tools, always striving to simplify their tasks. They encourage their team to venture into uncharted territories and nudge them towards new directions, maintaining transparent communication throughout their journey.

Perhaps the most impactful actions a leader can take are to offer recognition, praise and create opportunities for growth.

A great leader champions the spirit of teamwork, applauds the autonomous pursuit of new tasks and takes joy in their team’s successes. By doing so, they cultivate an environment of trust, growth and collaboration.

Life lessons

One of my greatest epiphanies is understanding that the most significant hurdle to life’s challenges and successes is time, coupled with your willingness to endure.

Acknowledging this makes navigating challenges easier because every challenge, no matter how daunting, inevitably ends.

Embrace the pursuit of knowledge relentlessly and whenever possible. Devote every moment to pursuits that enrich your life; be it through nurturing love, fostering relationships, expanding knowledge, personal improvement or accumulating wealth, use your time wisely.

If your time is not spent enriching your life in some manner, you may be overlooking the most magnificent opportunity.

Remember, time is irreversible and flows in only one direction. So, seize it, make the most of it and remember that endurance is key – it is one of your most important assets.


The game of chess is often seen as an allegory for strategy and leadership, its essence embedded in strategic planning, critical thinking and meticulous execution.

As leaders, especially in the realm of security, our game isn’t boxing, but chess. We must be proactive, deeply familiar with the unique assets, missions and directives of our respective organizations.

We must master the art of recognizing and executing vision and strategy, carry an aura of charisma and wield the power to persuade and empower others.

We must understand the pieces on our chessboard – the dynamics within our teams, the state of our assets and the evolving threat landscape.

We must tackle challenges with deliberation, devoid of reactive emotion, always with our eyes trained on the endgame.

As I look towards the future, I am convinced that the need for adept security leaders will escalate. Increasing threats will fuel this demand, changing controls, rapid technological advancements, globalization and crises both foreseen and unforeseen.

The burgeoning value of both tangible and intangible assets will require astute security management. The challenges of our time, the very mosaic of our current world, will shape the security leaders of tomorrow. It is the challenges we navigate today that will give rise to the guardians of our future.

Amat victoria curam – victory loves preparation. So let us prepare, not just for the victories of today, but for the trials of tomorrow. After all, it is not the game that defines us, but how we play it.

This article was originally published in the August edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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