Thanks to the James Bond franchise, we’ve all daydreamed about what it might be like to be an international man or woman of mystery. The suits. The swagger. The sweet ride.
Although you probably won’t be able to build your tradecraft chops at the CIA, entrepreneurs can pick up a few lessons from the intelligence community. I’ve interviewed a number of human intelligence specialists and gathered five key ways you can step up your leadership skills, spy-style.
1. Get hooked up with insiders. Intelligence assets are just as important in business as they are in espionage. Field agents are often judged by their ability to tap into people who divulge important information. Entrepreneurs need to be equally skilled at building their list of insider connections. As the saying goes: Your network is your net-worth.
Find the synergy between your objectives and those of valuable potential connections. Discover shared interests to build strategic relationships. The most motivated contacts are those who believe in a higher purpose or have a bigger vision. Explain how helping you helps them achieve their ideas for a better future.
2. Learn to read people’s faces. Observational skills help spies assess threats and recognize opportunities — especially when it comes to body language. Entrepreneurs should also become keenly aware of body language in meetings and conversations.
Pay attention to which phrases elicit an engaged response — leaning forward, widening eyes, raised eyebrows, subtle nodding of the head, a flash of a smile. These are signals that you have tapped into key points that align with a person’s values and beliefs.
Also, be on the lookout for phrases or even names that elicit a negative or disengaged response — leaning back, narrowing of the eyelids, crinkling of the nose or a protruding jaw.
3. Stay cool, calm and collected. The success of an operation can depend on a spy’s ability to keep cool in extremely high-pressure situations. As a leader, you too, need to maintain your composure. During stressful times, your team looks to you for leadership. A frantic leader results in a frantic workforce.
When you are under high levels of stress, bring your attention to your breath. Shallow breathing can result in increased body tension. Focus on taking deep, comforting, full breaths to release the anxiety building up.
Jittery movements are also associated with nervousness — tapping a pen on the desk, rattling legs underneath the table or pacing back and forth. Convey confidence with stillness. Full breaths and stillness can have a very calming effect for you and those around you.
4. Venture outside your comfort zone on purpose. Field operatives find themselves in a wide variety of places, surrounded by all kinds of people. They have to be comfortable in any situation.
Entrepreneurs have to be just as versatile and flexible. One of the best ways to find inspiration, solve a problem or stretch your limits, is to actively put yourself outside your comfort zone. Take dance classes. (All spies know tango, right?) Join MeetUp groups. Go skydiving. Purposefully push outside your comfort zone. New experiences will reveal new aspects of yourself. The next time a curveball is thrown your way, you’ll be more capable of adapting.
5. Sharpen your memory. Remembering massive amounts of detailed information is important in the intelligence community. One piece of intel could be critical to an operation. Even though entrepreneurs aren’t committing complex codes to memory, improving one’s memory skills can be beneficial. Remembering names of people, their influential triggers, and dynamics among key players can help you land bigger business deals.
Making associations with ‘raw data’ is a great way to improve memory. The basic premise is to associate information with other — sometimes off the wall — images, memories, ideas or whatever you like. Let’s use remembering names as an example. If I meet someone named Carey, I’ll probably think of a bloody dress. Skylar makes me think of a lark in the sky. Dan I would associate with tan skin — bonus if he actually does have a tan. And so forth.
The memory palace is another great technique, especially for remembering important business numbers or even a speech. With this skill, you visualize your home or any location. As you imagine walking from room to room, you attach important information with scenes or images.
Think like a CIA agent and you might find you’re more attentive, better connected, calmer and ready to tackle the challenge of running your business.