Six things I learned at the CIA that can make you a better leader

Rupal Patel Posted on August 27, 2020 in Blog

Our new speaker Rupal Patel shares some of the insights on leadership she gained during her career in the intelligence services

Go deep into your identity

In the world of espionage, going undercover means diving into your persona, and it’s essential for leaders to study themselves, too. By thinking deeply about what you want, who you want to be, and what makes you thrive, you can better define and decide how to lead, and what the core mission of your business will be. Without taking time to really understand how you work and what your blind spots are, your business and team will flounder around you.

Focus on your mission

It’s difficult to run your own race without a sideways glance at those running beside you, and comparison-itis afflicts everyone from the most seasoned leader to newly-minted founder. While it can be helpful to look around for best practices and benchmarks, it is dangerous, distracting, and destructive to focus too long on any mission but your own. Don’t lead with your head on a swivel. Focus on your mission, your values, and your business.

Become anti-fragile

In the life-or-death situations many field agents find themselves in, resilience, adaptability, and thick skin is required. Learning from negative feedback or mission failure is how operatives get better and survive. Your business’s survival equally depends on your mental and emotional toughness and on having a culture of adaptability. Be open to criticism and commit to failing – and learning – quickly.

Put the best agents in the field, regardless of their “time on target”

The likelihood of mission success is determined by the team executing and supporting it, so choose your team carefully. Whether a seasoned veteran or a green “newbie”, the depth of a team member’s abilities – not their seniority – should determine their role. Whatever your individual mission looks like, success is more likely when the right people are given the right responsibilities and authority.

Commit to after-action reviews

There is an anatomy to any mission success or failure, but the component parts will remain a mystery unless you commit time and energy to investigating what went wrong and what went right. Every outcome offers fertile learning ground to guide what you do next, but only if you crystalize the learning by capturing all of the relevant information and interrogating the heck out of it.

Interrogate the source of your intelligence

Not all sources are created equal, and many will be unreliable or have a bias or personal motivation behind what they say. Whenever you seek out advice, guidance, help, or support, make sure to understand who your source is and what ulterior motives – or ignorance – might be behind their (mis)information. You wouldn’t take investment advice from your hair dresser, and you wouldn’t take grooming advice from your accountant. Qualify your sources and make sure they have the relevant expertise or experience, and watch out for hidden agendas.

Rupal’s talks help founders and leaders, especially entrepreneurial women, find and release their inner badass to build businesses that thrive and live a mission-focused lifestyle. Get in touch to book Rupal

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