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Leading by lying


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Before the June 6 D-Day invasion, maps were drawn up showing the position of all the Germans in Normandy.

Allied planes flew daily recon missions to observe everything the enemy was doing along the beaches and cliffs of occupied France. Tanks, guns, and minefields were all recorded for the soon-to-invade troops.

But there was a problem. When you looked over a sector diagram (of Omaha beach say,) the small size of the map jammed gun next to gun next to gun. The whole coast appeared to be a briar patch of death.  How would that make an infantry commander feel as he briefed his men on the objective?

Overwhelmed and defeated probably.

So what was the solution? Change the map’s scale. Make it bigger so that the pillboxes look further apart.

With one tweak to the invasion planning, it suddenly seemed easier. Now there was room for an entire Division to drive between the German trenches.

This was just a trick, of course, and it didn’t change reality. The men who stormed ashore that horrid morning still had a tough day ahead—but at least they had a reason for confidence. Everyone could see a path to victory right there on the paper.

That pre-battle optimism isn’t written anywhere in the history books, but it must have helped. Facing an obstacle with no hope at all is much harder than advancing when you can see a chance for success. Leaders help us visualize success.

So Eisenhower gets most of the credit for winning the beaches, but I’d like to acknowledge the guy who understood that changing the size of a map could help to win a war.

That was leadership. That was sneaky and underhanded, but it was also wise and justified. With the stroke of a pen, he changed the perception of reality.

Modern life is a war of perceptions. Want to pass a bill through Congress? Scale the map in your favor.

Want to be acquitted? Show the jury your own map; you can be sure the prosecution has one of their own.

Want to get your people on board to implement a new process or product? Present it so the staff believes that success is only a matter of course. No need to talk about the hurdles you face, or the competition, or the risks. Those are your problems, not theirs. If the troops feel defeated, you probably won’t even make it to June 7.

I think Mark Twain was on the right track, but he’d be more accurate to have proposed: There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and scale.

It’s up to you whether you use it for good or ill, but re-scaling reality is a skill you can’t lead without.

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David Sneed

David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company,and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss; The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company". As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at  David@EveryoneHasABoss.com

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