These articles have run on websites, in newspapers, magazines, and books. Click on the articles under the " Blog Archive" heading below or scroll down. To browse my leadership book, " Leadership Basics for Frontline Managers", click on the link above each article. Ditto for links to my web site & blog. Podcasts: https://pintsandpolitics.ptbopodcasters.ca/ Find me via email: info(at)ascentassociates(dot)ca
Monday, December 21, 2020
Effects of wartime spy plan can be seen in offices today
What can we learn about organizational politics from the most successful Allied deception of the Second World War?
“Operation Mincemeat,” by Ben Mcintyre, is a meticulously researched book, and also an unintended case study of organizational politics in the 21st century.
What was Operation Mincemeat? In the winter of 1943, the tide had turned in the North African campaign. The Allies were pushing the enemy back and were planning to invade occupied Europe. Sicily was the assumed target for this invasion; this attack would be the largest amphibious invasion in history. But the Axis powers had anticipated this attack and were fortifying their positions in southern Italy. The Allies needed a distraction. They needed to convince the Germans that the invasion would not land in Sicily.
British analysts knew that Hitler feared an invasion of Greece, and for good reason. A landing in Greece could become the lower arm of a huge vice that could trap the Germans on the eastern front between an army from North Africa and the advancing Soviets. How could the British convince the Germans that this invasion would land in Greece, and not Sicily? British spy agents devised an audacious scheme.
The plan started with an unclaimed body in London. The body was dressed in the uniform of a Royal Marine officer, and a briefcase was handcuffed to his wrist. This briefcase held letters between senior British commanders describing a plan for an Allied invasion of Greece. A wallet containing shopping receipts, ticket stubs, fake identification, a picture of a girlfriend and even a love letter was planted on the body. This body was released from a Royal Navy sub off the Spanish coast. A sardine fisher picked it up and informed authorities.
The Spaniards, neutral but supportive of the Nazis, notified the German embassy. Wishfulness then took over; Nazi intelligence agents believed the plans for an invasion of Greece. Eager to please Hitler, these agents made sure that copies of these concocted plans were soon on their Fuhrer’s desk. When the invasion of Sicily took place in July 1943, Hitler had reinforced his army in Greece with five Panzer divisions to wait for an invasion that never came. The Germans had swallowed this deception hook, line and sinker. Why?
Adm. John Godfrey, the former director of Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division, identified two major weaknesses of the Nazi espionage bureaucracy: “wishfulness” and “yesmanship.” Wishfulness is the tendency to believe whatever supports a favoured worldview while simultaneously rejecting all contradictory views. Godfrey believed that the Nazi high command, when presented with two contradictory analyses, would believe the option that best matched their preconceptions.
Yesmanship is the tendency of those with less power to agree with those who have greater power, mainly out of ambition, but also out of fear. In organizations which have dire consequences for defying authority, like the Nazi command bureaucracy, wishfulness can give rise to deadly levels of yesmanship.
When I read Godfrey’s analysis, it struck me that his dynamics of wishfulness and yesmanship are still at work in every organization I have ever been a part of, either as a client, an employee, a contractor or a consultant.
How can we inoculate ourselves against wishfulness and yesmanship? Our intuition tells us when we are in an organization that is too careful. An extreme sense of cautiousness, combined with a paralyzing fear of sending the wrong message can stifle innovation. Do we understand the costs of being too careful?
Wishfulness and yesmanship can sabotage any organization. Only vigilance, a willingness to take risks and authentic trust can stop self-deception from becoming a gateway to self-destruction.
I meet lots of people who have just been told bad news. I work as an outplacement counsellor. That means that right after your manager tells you that you are losing your job and gives you a large envelope containing your severance package, you meet me. I don’t actually tell you the bad news. Your manager does that. But part of my job is to deal with your reactions, which, as you can imagine, vary widely. For some people, this news is a relief. For others, it is a complete surprise. Sometimes, it is a deep sense of humiliation. And occasionally it triggers damaging anger. For some, this news signals a joyful rebirth. Or it can trigger waves of grieving. And everything else in between.
Most people receiving this bad news generally bounce back, given enough time. It can be a painful process, but not an uncommon one. In time, most move on and regain their composure. They work through a program online and have coaching sessions with me. The length of their program depends on their former employer.
But what about their manager, the one who has to deliver the bad news? How much of my time do they get in order to deliver their dreaded message? Maybe five minutes. I wish I could coach them on how to deliver bad news. But there is no time or budget for this. These managers are thrown into the deep end. But if I could coach a manager about to fire an employee, what would I say?
I remember working with a vice-president of operations in a large firm; he had to tell his director of information technology that she no longer had a job. All he had to do was deliver the message, summarize the reasons behind his decision, explain the role of his human resources manager in this termination, mention that career coaching was part of the severance package, then leave the room. The HR manager would then review the severance package, answer any questions, then text me to enter the room.
After clarifying what I call the choreography of this meeting (the location, the timing and how to get the employee out of the building), I asked if he had any questions. He asked a question I seldom hear: How could he get ready to fire a colleague? Caught off guard, I paused then came up with, “Be fully present.” Fine. But what does “be fully present” really mean?
You need to grasp as much of the context of this bad news for the recipient as you can. Who are they? How old are they? What is their life situation? Where do they live? Who do they live with? What do you know of the recipient’s support network? And what does your intuition tell you about this person’s possible reaction?
You must do whatever you can to arrive in the moment, and be fully in the present. You are about to deliver news that will hurt. If you were the recipient, what would you need to hear? And how would you like to be told?
Being fully present is an advanced state of awareness. This is not a moment of self-forgetfulness. You don’t become smaller in these moments. This is a moment of self-transcendence. But how to get there?
Be aware of your body and how you feel right now. Look at your surroundings. What ambient sounds do you hear? Focus on your breath. Focus on your feelings. If you feel guilty or regretful, own those feelings. Rehearse what you are going to say, then throw away your script. Avoid clichés that are more about you than the person receiving the bad news. “I am sorry to have to tell you that….” or “I know this will be as difficult for you as it is for me, but…” has much more to do with you than the recipient. This is not about you.
How to deliver the bad news? Speak the words. Stick to the facts. Stick to the information the recipient has to understand right now. Offer concise explanations. Offer help. Mention resources. Be compassionate. Offer insight. Offer kindness. But deliver your core message. Do not attempt to sugar-coat a bitter pill. Become one with the situation, you and the person to whom you are delivering the bad news. You and the person you are working with are not two separate entities. Both of you are together in this situation. Fully inhabit this situation. Own it. Wear it like a warm coat in a winter storm.
What you say, beyond the basic message, will probably have little effect. How you say it will matter more. But most of all, how you are in the moment will have the greatest impact. Be fully present.
Bill Templeman is a writer, career coach, podcaster and consultant based in Peterborough, Ontario.
On July 11, 2019, Peterborough’s Mayor Diane Therrien and Selwyn Township Deputy Mayor Sherry Senis hosted an open town-hall meeting at Market Hall on the opioid crisis.
The Examiner reported on the same day (Grateful to be alive, ex-addict says overdose was wake-up call, July 12) that this meeting, billed as a summit on Peterborough’s opioid crisis, was attended by many politicians: Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, MP Maryam Monsef, MPPs Dave Smith, Michael Tibollo and Dave Piccini, almost all of Peterborough’s city councillors and Oshawa’s Mayor, Dan Carter.
According to the Examiner, Dave Smith said, "I'm going to take a lot of political heat, being a Conservative and standing behind Peterborough's application for a safe-consumption centre," he said. "But this is not partisan. Every single person who overdosed and died was someone's child."
I was at Market Hall for that summit; I heard Smith speak. His words seemed heartfelt. This didn’t seem to be just another throwaway line of political theatre.
There was a palpable sense of momentum coming out of that summit. Everyone knew the severity of Peterborough’s opioid problem. Up until July 11 of last year, 19 people had died. A total of 30 people were suspected to have died from overdoses in 2019. So far this year, close to 25 people are believed to have died due to overdoses. We are only a few weeks into the second half of the year. The urgency of this problem is still huge. But what has happened to our political will? Where is that safe-consumption site that Smith said was so desperately needed?
What can researchers tell us about safe consumption sites? Do they work? In a July 9 Examiner article (Too little action on overdoses, say Peterborough safe consumption advocates), Donna Rogers, director of Fourcast, a community addiction treatment agency, said: “safe consumption sites across the country have been shown to be able to save lives when people use them to inject drugs.”
But fear can quash research findings. A petition has been set up to convince MPP Smith to push for a ban on safe consumption sites in Peterborough. In the same Examiner article of July 9, petition organizer Mackenzie Darrington says: “A safe injection site will bring more people into Peterborough with addictions, ultimately adding to the amount of drug users in the city.” But this fear is not supported by research.
Education is key to understanding, and understanding leads to attitude change. A week after last year’s summit at Market Hall, I hosted a panel discussion on Trent Radio with Salvaterra, Deputy Chief Tim Farquharson, Coun. Kemi Akapo, Alex Bierk and Andrew. Alex and Andrew both have lived experience of opioid use. This panel discussion is available online as two podcast episodes; these episodes could be useful for those who did not attend the summit last July. To listen to this discussion, divided into two 25-minute segments, go to: www.pintsandpolitics/ptbopodcasters.ca.
There are other steps we could take as a community. Opioid abuse is an illness; we could start by reducing the stigma that is dumped on users. A few local doctors could administer a safe supply so that opioid users would at least know what they are putting into their bodies. The hours of the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) Clinic could be extended to the times when people are more likely to need help.
I continue to be grateful that these five panellists took the time to have this discussion last July. I continue to be dumbfounded that their message is just as relevant today as it was 12 months ago. What will change in the next year? Or will Peterborough celebrate this grim anniversary every July?