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Posted: May 20, 2013

Leading by lying

Re-scaling reality

David Sneed

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.

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

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Readers Respond

Surveys show people are becoming increasingly less trusting, and this is being compounded with a luck of trust for politicians, bankers etc. At work the lack of trust from society somehow has to be overcome by employers to ensure that employees are engaged and delivering their best by trusting the company and it's managers. The D Day landing was about a bigger mission - although winning the beaches was an important tactical activity, maintaining a free world was the overall vision and strategy. If leaders can create a great vision that is compelling and they bring their teams along with them they too will be able to overcome the challenges that get in the way without having to lie. I fear it is those leaders that do not have the support of their people that may need to resort to this approach. By Frazer Rendell on 2013 05 24
Trina, thanks for the comment, I think you've got it right. Bill, I bet you got to hear some interesting stories. Side question: Do you think names like "Easy Green" were given to be psychologically "easier" sounding routes? By David Sneed on 2013 05 22
An interesting proposition David. My Pop landed beach engineers that morning. Originally tasked to land on Easy Green, enemy fire from a series of defense nests closed Easy Green and they moved to Easy Red. German defense positions included an anti-tank ditch just over the shale wall on Easy Red. German riflemen and machineguns occupied the ditch and raked the top of the shale. What my Pop said about the invasion and what Ambrose's studies showed, that all commands concentrated on landing and getting off the beach. The hedgerow problem caused the greatest surprise. Everyone from highest to lowest assumed the hedgerows were the type found in American and British gardens, proved much more. Mini-fortresses easily defended and farmhouses with a little work also became fortified positions that cost much blood and treasure. By bill oneill on 2013 05 20
That was my initial reaction also, until I read between the lines through his examples. I chose to hold the principle in this way - As a leader I will not lie to or mislead my people. I will not move forward unless and until I see a real path to success. I will not lead lambs to slaughter. I will take the bulk of the 'worrying' upon myself and keep the collective focus and belief on the vision and desired future, rather than on the obstacles. Removing obstacles is my job. And so on.... By Trina Hoefling on 2013 05 20
This article disturbes me. The premise that it is OK to lie to (or at least decieve) employees to get what is needed is wrong. I would content that if one has to go to those lengths then maybe the idea is not a good one. The reference to the Congress is a perfect demonstration of the problem. I can't imangine you think Congress (either side) is functional today. Maybe it is because they feel that they have to spin everything to such a degree that it is not truthful anymore and the other side has to knock it down. It certainly does not allow the public the ability to sift through the language to determine what is good or not so good. Sorry, I can't agree with your premise. By tom murphy on 2013 05 20
"Leaders help us visualize success." Yes Sir, they do! By Mark Vujeva on 2013 05 20
I agree with your precept, especially about changing perspective. I worry, though, that when those same motivated troops come to the process change agents with feedback are heard and not denied (because execution of new process impacts them whether it's their problem or not). Now I'm with you! By Trina Hoefling on 2013 05 20
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