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ALTA SPRINGBOARD: Bulletproof Strategies for Leading Fearlessly

Evy Poumpouras, a former Secret Service Special Agent, speaks at the 2024 ALTA SPRINGBOARD. Photo credit: Shawn Sullivan

By Megan Hernandez

Leadership doesn’t automatically belong to the person with the most seniority or the one with the best networking skills—leadership is something that comes from within.

Evy Poumpouras, a former Secret Service Special Agent and interrogator, shared her insights on leadership during the FNF Family of Companies-sponsored Idea Festival at the 2024 ALTA SPRINGBOARD in Oklahoma City, Okla. She noted that leadership is about building genuine connections with others.

From her 12 years protecting the world’s most high-value assets, including U.S. Presidents and First Ladies, as well as interviewing terrorists, Poumpouras took away hard-won lessons on how to shape a resilient mindset, communicate with maximum impact and create authentic relationships—yes, even with the bad guys.

Good leaders know how to be strong listeners, Poumpouras said. She described watching former President Bill Clinton interact with everyone from heads of state to the public and called on an ALTA SPRINGBOARD attendee to help her demonstrate. As she bent down to look her volunteer in the eyes, she used Clinton’s Arkansas draw: “Hello there, and what is your name,” she asked. “Justin,” the volunteer said. “Justin, it’s so good to see you. And where are you from, Justin?,” Poumpouras asked. She continued the conversation, using the attendee’s name approximately five times in less than a minute. Additionally, Poumpouras didn’t talk about herself during the conversation, she simply asked questions and listened.

“Take people in,” she said. “Open your eyes, and listen. Be there” without distractions.

The one thing she never saw a U.S. President do? Hold their cell phone—on or off—while they spoke to someone. “Put your phone AWAY,” she emphasized. “Phones kill trust. Just the fact that your phone is out—even if it’s face down—decreases your attention by 30 percent.”

The two characteristics people appreciate in a leader are warmth—being open, welcoming, approachable and non-judgmental—and competence. 

Good leaders understand the “rules of engagement,” Poumpouras said. Don’t cut people off or finish their sentences. Be mindful of when and how you correct others.

“The whole point is to make people feel connected,” she said. “You have to build rapport.”

Finally, good leaders also know how to accept and adapt both to other people and situations. “People have difficulty accepting the reality of a situation,” she said. But until you can accept the obstacle or the person you’re speaking with, you won’t be able to adapt to it.

“Accept the truth of what truly is,” Poumpouras said. “Accept both the person and the problem—that does not mean agreement.”

You can accept a person or situation without agreeing with them, she noted. She gave an example about questioning a terrorist. Of course, she didn’t agree or condone with what the terrorist was accused of doing, but she had to accept who he was and how he thought to build trust so he would answer her questions honestly.

Her point was that no matter the situation, whether in your personal or professional life, you must be able to accept what’s happening in the now before you can have any influence over it.

“Being adaptable is power,” Poumpouras said. Attempting to make others adapt to you is not leadership, “but when you can adapt to a situation, that gives you the power.”


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