Decoding Minds: Leadership Lessons from Former Spy

by | Jun 27, 2024 | DISC Training, Leadership

The Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast invites guests to explore the future and its impact on leadership. Each episode tackles big questions like What’s on the horizon? What does it mean for us? And most importantly, what skills do we need for future leadership?

A few months ago, Zoë Routh invited me for an interview, which I was pleased to accept. It was a great opportunity to share insights into the life of an Intelligence Operator and Staff Office and discuss how we can use our DISC personalities to enhance our unique leadership styles. You can listen to our podcast episode here: 

(If you’d like to dive deeper into how our DISC personality influences our leadership style, have a read of my blog here.)

Video Transcription

I apologize beforehand for any potential translation inaccuracies in both the French and English versions. Note that this translation has been generated using AI.

Welcome to the Zoë Routh leadership podcast, where we explore the future and what this means for your leadership. We ask the big questions: what’s happening on the horizon? What does this mean for us? And most importantly, what skills do I need now for leadership in the future? It’s time to explore. Let’s go.

Zoë: Well, hello there, I hope you are well. And welcome back to the show. Very exciting episode today talking about some really juicy stuff and some amazing stories on Planet Human.

I’ve been watching The Three-Body Problem on Netflix, which is based on a very popular sci-fi novel. And the three-body problem is essentially a science issue. How do you resolve a planet that revolves around three different suns? And it’s unpredictable. Apparently, I think that’s an accurate translation of what is the three-body problem. But the whole series addresses the Fermi Paradox. And I had to go and google that to make sure I had that correct. And the Fermi Paradox is the identification that there is a high likelihood of existence of life somewhere out there in the universe. There’s so many stars with so many planets. What’s the likelihood, the probability of a planet like ours existing in the Goldilocks zone of habitable, life affirming life supporting environmental conditions? highly likely?

The paradox is, if it’s highly likely, there has been no conclusive evidence of life elsewhere. So how do we resolve that? If it’s highly likely it leads the question of where is everybody? Where are these other life forms? What are they going to be like? So they’re births, a whole bunch of sci-fi, exploring what it’d be like for first contact with an alien species, a species that is not earth based.

And there’s two main approaches to that. One idea is that if they have reached space travel capability, advanced civilizations where they could travel between stars, then it’s possible they’ve evolved beyond survival conflicts, like we haven’t, as humans, we are still in conflict, unfortunately. And wouldn’t it be great to meet a society that has evolved beyond that, and that conflict is no longer an issue. And it’s neither is basic survival. That’s sort of one stream of thinking about first contact and other stream thinking about first contact is, if they’re traveling from their star systems, they’re looking for another place to live, and therefore competition and survival elements are there. Therefore, we need to be in defensive mode when it comes to first contact of alien civilizations. Who knows? Likely is going to be a mess when it happens. Because no one can imagine what is out there really, without any evidence or anything, but are based on our imagination and projection of what we know. There’s so much we do not know.

Why do I put this up as part of planning human because it is central to our consideration of our long term strategy as a species, are we going to just bury our head in the sand and try and eke out the existence on our planet, which is doomed to boil drawing in 2 billion years, or we’re going to do something about keeping our species and consciousness going beyond our planet. This is not our everyday challenge. Of course, everyday challenges, I need a job, I need to put food on the table, clothing on my family, roof over the head, etc. And yet, if we don’t consider these problems, there’ll be no future for that either.

These are the kinds of thoughts I wrestle with and put into my fiction. Speaking in fiction on Planet Zoe, we have a live (dundunun) live in person book launch coming up on May the 30th. Here in Canberra at the Shine Dome, you can register for that it’s free, come along and hear behind the scenes, insights into the book, have a chance to win the book, purchase the book, or any of my other books. And just come and celebrate the publication of my seventh book, my third novel, and the third novel in this Gaya series that’s happening on 30th of May the Shine Dome. The link for the registration will be in the show notes. And that’s what’s happening on Planet Sohae.

In the meantime, my leadership question for you is, do you want to read people like a spy? How do spies read people? It’s very exciting. My guest today is JJ Brun. He is a French Canadian. And so yeah, we have fun with that. He is known as the Retired Spy which caught my eye immediately because it’s one of my favorite genre fiction is spy movies and spy literature. Anyway, he’s a real spy. He is also a three time award winning speaker. He’s a best selling author. He’s a master trainer of DISC, which is one of the tools that I use in my leadership work in terms of understanding how people think and act and linking those two things together as a people insight reader. He’s had 15 years in the Canadian Armed Forces in the Intelligence branch, and we have some amazing stories. He has amazing stories to share. So without further adieu, here is JJ. Brun.

Zoë: Well, all the way from Gatineau, Quebec, we have John Jacques Joseph Brun, otherwise known as JJ Brun. Welcome to the show!

JJ: Thank you. Thank you.

Zoë: I’ve been really excited about this interview. Because I am a spy thriller nerd, I love all stories about spies. And I’m a little bit afraid too because I’m suspect that some of my excitement around the spy life may have my bubble burst in terms of it’s not James Bond, and it’s maybe a little bit more mundane, or maybe it’s not. So I’m so looking forward to hearing your perspective and your background on spy and people. So first of all, big question. Why did you become a spy?

JJ: I never intended to, it was more of an exit strategy for me when I was studying at the Ottawa University in Sudbury, Ontario. I had a fight with dad one weekend, and I decided that was it. And I left the university and I joined the military. I was tired of being told what to do. And….

Zoë: So you went into the military?

JJ: Yes, actually.

Zoë: Because they don’t tell you what to do there.

JJ: Yeah. No, they don’t know. But as a 19-year-old, you think you know the world; you think you know everything. And that was more out of control in regards to my temperament style, and I didn’t receive the insights or the education from my dad. And I just basically pulled in, and the military was an exit strategy from there; dad was there when we graduated—when I graduated from the boot camp and then from there was because I was a 10-week program, and then you go into 16 weeks of pure hell going through the combat arms. So I succeeded, as in I had a very good experience. And I progress rapidly in the military. It would take you eight years to acquire to become a sergeant. Within the military. I did it in three years and 10 months, which is a blessing and a curse.

So the old guard doesn’t like the fact that you progress rapidly. But I was a new generation. I was bigger, stronger, bilingual, and computer literate; I was the new up-and-coming soldier that the army was looking for. And because it was a blessing and a curse, well ‘cause I don’t need to have all of this, these challenges. So then I was looking for another exit strategy. And the only thing that interested me, was the intelligence branch. I thought, well, that’s cool, that’s sexy. That’s exclusive. I was attracted to that for some reason.

Today, I understand why because I better understand myself. And why I was attracted to that area. So I did five years in the combat arms, I have one operational tour, Cyprus. So for me, it was peacekeeping back then. And then I have 15 years within the intelligence branch. And within the intelligence branch, I specialized in the field of human intelligence. And that’s where I got branded.

My claim to fame, back then, was my second tour. And back then, it was Bosnia; we had a war in Bosnia. So, I was selected or volunteered to be the first ever contact handler since the Second World War. Now, contact handlers are a person who he or she is sent into a hostile environment where he or she has to cultivate sources within that environment, determine people’s intentions and modify their behaviours. In other words, present an idea and get them to buy into it for them to become more of an informant or take the role of an informant so that we can have a sense of what’s happening on the terrain and our commanding authority or leadership can attribute the proper resources in the proper place to maintain the peace.
So that was sort of my claim to fame. Then, I was recommended for advanced operations, but that did not exist. Back then, I – because we first started, and I was sent back to the school in the UK to teach and to train.

Zoë: This by school?

JJ: Yes, it was a nun. The first time I’ve visited the UK. All I heard was, who wants to go to the UK? Well, I raised my hand. I was looking around, but nobody was raising it. Well, I’d like to go to the UK. So they sent me on a prisoner handling and tactical questioning. So it’s an interrogator course. And I’m like, I was just excited I was going to go on an expense-paid trip to the UK. And that was surreal. Because back then, we didn’t have a phone, we didn’t have the, you know, the internet so much. Everything was on paper. So I flew from, you know, from Canada to Heathrow. And then that’s an experience when you land because it’s in the morning, but everything is reversed left and right. So, crossing the road, you, I tend to look on the left, but you’re supposed to look on the right because that’s where the only vehicles will come in a different direction. Taking a taxi and just taking a British cab is fun. It’s like it’s just different. And then going to the train station. Now I’m living a Harry Potter moment. I’m like, Oh, my gosh, this old train station, and then you get into that Caboose, or it’s like, it’s just a very old train. And it’s like, it’s just forever. Then you just see the landscape, and you don’t even know where you’re going. You’re just looking for what this town is going to ride because that’s where I’m supposed to come out.

And when I arrived in that town, there was a shack; it was just a little shack. As in, okay, how am I gonna get to that undeclared base that I’m supposed to go to? Then this car, which is just a car, I think, was the first Uber ever, as in, he was a taxi, got in there. And then I showed him the directions and the name of where I needed to go. I didn’t understand what he was saying to me — different dialects; English has about five dialects: rah-rah, rah. And I’m like, I don’t know. And then he brought me, and he dropped me in the middle of an onion field.

Zoë: In the middle of the field?

JJ: And I’m like — oh, that’s not and I just, oh my gosh. Then somebody came up with a long rifle, and he was dressed in uniform. He had a long rifle, and I was challenged. I’m like, well, that’s a good sign. So then my name was on that list. So they escorted me inside. And the base itself no longer exists. In the UK, what they did was build that tunnel. And the tunnel actually went underneath that barrack, underneath that undeclared military base. The base itself was there during World War One and World War Two, and all of the high-valued assets or people that they were going to interrogate were where they would bring them back to the UK. That’s where everything was housed. And it was like going or coming to the mothership within the intelligence branch as in the core branch. This is where it all happened. And it was like, wow.
The Brits have a different way of training people. There’s no luxury. It, of course, starts on a Sunday and ends on a Sunday; it was seven days, and there was no weekend. So Saturday, I was there before we were at the site inside the mess, the sergeant’s and warrants officers’ mess. They were playing bingo; they were very excited. I was just at the bar, having, you know, I’m going to go from left to right and start testing all the different liquids that they had available. And it was just surreal.

But then, the den in day one of the training, oh my gosh, the first hour, we reported the first hour we were stripped naked, thrown into an insell and interrogated.

Zoë: Oh my god.

JJ: Zoë that was not on the curriculum. No, no. It never came to my mind that I was going to be or that I was going to be stripped naked and interrogated. I thought, you know, you fake it, you know, you pretend you, but the realism that they put into this was quite a shock for me because I got yelled at for nine minutes nonstop. I don’t know if the guy actually took a breath. Just nonstop. He was so close. I knew what he had for breakfast. And then it’s like, “Okay, get dressed, get back in the classroom.” And then I’m like, “Oh my gosh, why am I here? I’m in over my head. I should never have come here. What was I thinking?” Because I have no idea how to pass this course. I’m the only Canadian. I don’t want to be able to return home and on a yacht. You failed the course. But I was clueless. I was “a-clue-istic” one without a clue of how am I going to survive this course.

I was student number three, and they debriefed us. And then, when he came to me, I was amazed. I was amazed by how much information he had captured, or he was in my brain, and he was in my head, and how did you know this? Because I didn’t answer one question. I didn’t answer one question, but all the micro movements and the closing of my fists and my breathing or my — he knew my triggers like he was getting ready for the second interrogation. He attributed this to something called BSA, behavioural symptom analysis, and then I became a student right there. Tell me more about this. That’s where I think I got my little hook or my interest in understanding human dynamics, the tendencies that people have, and how you go about discerning one’s preferred communication style. How do you read the different personas? How can you decode once preferred, I mean their human capital, taking more of a positive approach to this and a negative approach to this?

It was a defining moment at that time because if you’ve never experienced that, it left a mark. But it also opened my appetite to learning more about this whole industry and better understanding it because I thought they were masterful at it. That was my first trip. I had five trips to the UK, but that was my first time visiting a spy school in the UK and really a defining moment; I guess it would have been just the experience of this. Then, when I went back to our unit, I was able to take this and then apply it in our day-to-day activity without stripping people or interrogating people. But I just designed a program on how to interview, debrief and elicit information. So, elicitation techniques are all based on BSA principles and strategies. So I was very grateful for that experience.

Zoë: Wow, so much I want to know, okay, first question. You mentioned right at the beginning that you know, now because you know yourself better, why you were best suited to become a spy. What did you learn about yourself that now you recognize, like, oh, that’s why I gravitate towards that particular kind of world.

JJ: Well, another defining moment was when I attended an accreditation or certification program to be a recognized certified human behaviour consultant. I was still working within the Intelligence Branch, specializing in the Field of Human Intelligence. I came upon a book that I had received, and on the back, it had a website; the book was Positive Personality Profile, and the website was I went to that website, and I saw that there was a program, a sort of certification, and I’m like, “Well, I’m in this. This is my lane; I’m opening up this capability for the Canadian Armed Forces. I’m pioneering this.” I made a business case with them that I should go and take this accreditation. At the event, since it was a three-day program back then with Dr. Robert A. Rohm and we did an audit. We did an assessment to determine the level of intensity of the Four Temperament Model, also referred to as the DISC Model Of Human Behaviour.

D for dominant, I for inspiring, S for supportive, and C for cautious. What I realized is that I am a double dose of task at no words, that I’m a DC style blend. I have all four traits in me to a lesser or greater degree, but I am definitely more dominant, direct, demanding, cautious, calculating, and conscientious. So, that style blend fitted very well within the military and also for the intelligence branch. Because in time, what has happened is that I got accredited. I went for advanced behavioural studies, and I created and designed a speakers’ boot camp based on personalities for that company. I became their training director at one point. I designed a program called the Master Trainer program for that company. And I came to realize that because I’m doing all the training with the government and I also train their trainers, that in the intelligence branch if you have the C trait, that trait that’s more reserved and very task-oriented and loves the analysis and the details and measures twice, cut once. They’re motivated by quality answers; excellence or value is non-negotiable. If you’re gonna stack boxes, stack boxes with excellence. So, if that trait is not your primary trait in the intelligence community, 90% of the time, it’s your secondary trait. So with all the agencies that I’ve worked with, whether it’s law enforcement, CSIS, RCMP, or Revenue Canada, if that C trait is not your primary 90% of the time, it’s your secondary trade.

So I’m just wired for that industry, or I’m wired for that type of vocational direction. I wish I had learned this information when I was in high school because that would have been appropriate for me, and I would have made wiser decisions based on how I’m wired by strengths. So that I could select a career path that’s based on how I’m wired and not based on where my friends are going to university; well, I’ll go there, too. And then the second year, you change your master, you know, you take something else because it’s not a great fit. It would have been nice. But then, I would not have had a fight with Dad. And I would have not gone down that path. I’m a big believer that your mess in life is your message, and your message is your mission. I’ve always struggled in understanding myself, I wish I had this information before. I learned it a little bit down the road by necessity.

Now it’s like; it’s almost like it’s a mission to share with others what I’ve learned so that they don’t have to wait ’till they’re in their 40s to learn about this. So, I was able to educate my daughter and my son so that when they were ready to leave the house, they left under control and not out of a fight with their father.

So it’s a great tool. I think people are at a disadvantage in business or in their personal lives if they don’t have a model of reference. You know, there’s hundreds of models that exist. The Neo, the MMPI, StrengthsFinder, Anagrams, and Archetypes, like there are many tools out there. Pick one, master it, and put in the time and effort, but find one. I like this one because, in psychology, it is referred to as the wellness model, looking at the trace under control and not looking at dysfunctionalities but on the positive side of the model. That drew me to that model. Now I have 30,000 hours, I think in studying, equipping, and teaching, and equipping people with this tool.

Zoë: So, master spy, you’ve known me for about 20 minutes. Where do I sit on the DISC?

JJ: Well, can I ask you a couple of questions?

Zoë: Go for it.

JJ: If you had to choose right now, and you’re not locked into this and you could change your mind over lunch, is your preference of working operating in a more of an outgoing environment or more of a reserve environment?

Zoë: Depends. So, writing is definitely reserved for me on my own. But I get juiced up and jazzed in the leadership programs that I’ve run, so with people.

JJ: So you leaned a little bit like more on the outgoing side versus on the reserve side?

Zoë: Yeah, probably. Yeah. I get energized around people.

JJ: Ah, okay. So this refers to what I’m doing here: I’m decoding human capital. The two P’s to decode human capital: there’s always a pace perspective. Then you cannot not communicate. So that’s more of an NLP Neuro Linguistic Programming saying. So you’re leaning. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have [energy]; it’s just that you get your energy, and you tend to operate more in our energy. So, more outgoing. Now I have two choices. I have two choices: task versus people.

So in your day-to-day, in regards to your orientation, your preference. When you wake up in the morning, do you think about all the things you need to do today? Or do you think about all the people you’re going to interact with and meet throughout your day?

Zoë: People.

JJ: So, those two questions, the pace perspective and the priority perspective, help us find a quadrant, a starting point for us to engage in a conversation. The important thing here is not to make an absolute; based on the model, I would’ve identified the I persona as inspiring, influencing, and inducing. That’s a great attribute. It’s all about the people. They are often referred to as the people magnet or naturally drawn to [people]. They have a lot more energy; they come into the room, they bring that energy, they have a great imagination, and they can think outside the box, “What if?” They influence, and they have different leadership styles.

There are four leadership styles. So, for the company, I was trying to make a point that it’s not all the D persona (Dominant, Direct, Demanding) that our leaders know, as in we lead differently. Some lead, well, I have it here. Your audience won’t see this, but you’re going to be able to see this. So, we lead differently. Right? So this rectangular box represents a platoon, it represents 30 people, and you see there’s a dot in the front. So, the D persona tends to lead directly. “Let’s go, follow me.”

But then I persona, right, so that’s the platoon again, but they are in the center, the dots in the center, so they tend to lead inspirationally, they influence people to get on board with them to move the group ahead.

From an S perspective, the high-S, they lead supportively they’re in the back. They’re pushing the team, they’re pushing them to go to the finish line with words of affirmation, they make sure nobody’s left behind. They lead supportively.

But from a C perspective, they tend to be on the side; they can see the front, they can see the middle, they can see the back, and they lead carefully, making sure everybody’s at the right place at the right time following the proper procedures.

So leadership has four different styles of leadership. And the leader for me, a leader is not one who looks behind to see who’s following them. A leader is one who recognizes the environment that they’re in and adapts his or her leadership style towards that environment in order to move the group ahead. It’s not hard for me to be in front of the platoon or in front of a group, “Let’s go follow me,” I’m wired for that. It’s not hard for me to be on the side. And making sure all the procedures I’m wired for that. I struggle with being the center of the group and influencing. I struggled being in the back pushing, because oh my gosh, these are my lowest traits. So, if you don’t have a model of reference, you often find yourself at a disadvantage, whether it’s in business or in your personal life.

With this model, for me, when I empower people with this model, and I accredit and certify, well, now you have, you know, it’s a force multiplier. It multiplies your capabilities, and that’s the value of any professional to have a model of reference because they will empower people to maximize or to do their best and where they find themselves.

So when this was created, the leadership clues and cues if you’re strong in the I quadrant, so this might be your case; what happens if you have a JJ on your team, and JJ is a high D? Well, here’s your strengths, here’s our struggles, and here’s some strategies to working with JJ or to influence JJ to a desired outcome. So it’s a little cheat sheet; it’s almost illegal to use it. But it does give an edge for managers or leaders to better understand their human capital and see that people don’t do things to you. They do things for themselves. And if you understand their basic needs by decoding their preferred communication style, they’ll say yes to you more often. Just learning to say the same thing in a different way. It’s just different.

Zoë: So you pick me accurately because I’ve done the DISC multiple times, and I’m always sitting on the outer edge of the I. That’s my natural style.

JJ: Okay. I’m interested in seeing if you are interested because there are 41 different style blends. So, in different companies, there are about 50 companies that will teach or run certification programs across the globe. Personality Insights is one out of the hundreds or 50 that are out there, and not everyone has 41-styled lenses. Some will have 29, some will have 16, and someone will look into 4 style blends, but according to Personality Insights research, there are 41. Now, there is a style blend; it’s the IC style blend, the Inspiring Cautious style blend. I’d be curious to see where that C trait resides because writing requires to focus in that area, but then how do you recharge? How do you re energize? And quite often, hobbies will provide me with a clue and cue as to which quadrant that they find themselves in because to recharge, they need social activities, going for lunch with a friend just reenergized just rings back that energy gets an extra two hours in your day.

COVID was hard for the I persona and the S persona because they feed, they need the energy from people. D’s and C’s loved it. “Oh, fantastic. I don’t have to meet new people. I just get to do my work, my job and then just..”
Because they prefer a written form of communication to an interactive form of communication. And it’s just the tendencies people have. So, but you know, we’re in a similar… do you specialize a lot in archetypes?

Zoë: I don’t in terms of using a methodology to look at archetypes, no. But I have written a lot about archetypes. I’ve written about them in two of my books.

JJ: It’s a great tool.

Zoë: It is, I mean all these tools are great and like trying to understand yourself and mapping your characteristics and your preferences is essential for being a great people leader and understanding yourself a little bit better. So yes, I’m high I and the fact that you say that DC is probably where you need to be for a spy, confirms that I will be a terrible spy.

JJ: Oh, you know who makes the best?

Zoë: No.

JJ: The S.

Zoë: The s? Yeah, I can see that.

JJ: Non-threatening. Non-threatening, as in people confessed. A complete stranger tells them so much information. My spouse, my wife, and my business partner are strong in the S quadrant. We’re opposite, opposite attraction when we’re far, and we attack when we are close. But when you don’t have a model of reference, it’s quite interesting. We make retreats now for DISC workshops for couples, where we do workshops. “I’m glad I married you.” “I’m still glad I married you,” and we talked about the personas and better understanding.

Now, we go to a trip in Atlanta. And I say to Judy, don’t make eye contact with people because people dump all their problems on her for some reason. For me, I have this like, I have this aura around me like, like a forcefield. Nobody, nobody cuts the line in front of me. Nobody comes into that zone. But for her, they will always cut. When we went to Atlanta, I saw her like she was all, she was drained. Like it’s just a four-hour flight, but she was drained. And I’m like, how many people? And she knew exactly the question. There was three. What happened?

She’s sitting, right? She’s having a conversation with a gentleman. And you know, when you’re flying, “Is this business or pleasure? Are you coming? Are you going?” Now she just wants to have a conversation, well the gentleman’s bringing the ashes of his father who just passed away. Oh, my gosh. And now it’s like, you know, you go down that road. And it was just heavy. And she absorbs, right? They just absorb. So it was like this for three people that she met. Then we arrived in Atlanta, and she just needed to take a nap.

But that’s how they recharge, just took a nap, she will recharge, as in, they need non-cognitive activity to bring them back under control. So we all have these. This is how we can protect ourselves from ourselves if we have a strong sense of self is a good starting point. And understanding why you do the things you do. And then it’s like, oh, they’ll take things personal. It’s just different.

Zoë: Okay, so let’s come back to spying because I really want to know a little bit more about this. So you started your career, and you had experience in the UK? And then you went on to be an operative or a contact handler. You said you were not an operative but a contact handler. What is that whole life like? Like, is it James Bond? Is it something different?

JJ: We tend to label what we don’t understand. So we have the whole James Bond series Mission Impossible. Uncle is a series also in the UK. And that’s sort of like the image that we have — it’s cool, it’s sexy, it’s glamorous. It’s not at all like that, from my perspective, because being an intelligence operator, or intelligence officer, staff officer —- it’s a job. It’s a profession, just like any profession. But we tend to label what we don’t understand. We don’t refer to ourselves as spies; we refer to ourselves as an intelligence analyst and intelligence officer; an intelligence operator is just that’s just the title, the terminology. Now, we do look different sometimes out there. Now, for us in the military, we were in uniform. So I went back to the UK, back to spy school, but a different place. Because that base did not exist when it was time, and it was a multinational company.

So we had seven different nationalities in the chicsand. So if you check with chicsand, chicsand is well declared, it’s a military base. And we went to chicsand and that’s where we did the course prior to deploying in Bosnia. So, we’re learning all the mechanics of seven different nationalities, but they never taught us anything about personalities. They would say you need to establish rapport. Okay, so how do you do that? Well, you know, you just do a rapport, and then they give you the definition of the word report. Okay. But how do you do that? Well, you just do rapport; you have to have rapport and then never provide something sort of like that human dynamic factor. Well, how do you establish and maintain rapport with people?
So, every time we interact with people, I’ve found that you either complete or compete with that interaction. When I was deployed in Bosnia, well, there’s Croats, there’s Serbs and then there’s Muslims, and I’m supposed to build relationships with those ethnicities, and we have requirements, intelligence requirements. Then we have priority intelligence requirements, PIR. In IR, we have a whole series of questions that the commanding officer wants answers.

So, who might we connect with who answers these questions? So you’re very proactive, going to set a meeting and book a meeting and then book a meeting from a meeting and moving forward and building your database of informants if you wish, and getting them to say yes to you. So there’s some influence thing. And influence is for a win-win to manipulate for personal gain. So there’s a fine line in regards to what we were doing. We were living in the local community, which is like we’d never do to any uniform.

The safe house, which was not really safe because it was open to…anybody could just walk into our place and blow it up. But back then, that was sort of like the environment that we were in. It was multinational. And English is the working language.

Well, in Canada, we may speak two languages, French and English; in the States, maybe English and Spanish. In European countries, it’s quite often that they speak four to six different languages. You know that almost all of them know German, and English will be one of the last ones that they learn.

So English is the working language, so it’s like, oh, my gosh, did you understand what I meant for you to understand? So not that there’s a challenge in our commanding officer, British thick accents. I’m not going to do it justice; I’m pretty sure he had the whole town meeting. Like, everybody, all the operatives, or all the contact handlers were all together. And then he said in his briefing, “I know you think you understand what I have just said, but I’m not really sure that much understand is what I meant for you to understand that is. Do you understand?” And I’m just looking around as, “Wow, this is gonna be a long six months.” I’m pretty sure it’s English. I have just been there. And it was just surreal. Everybody wants to talk. Everybody wants to talk all the time. You just have to find their hot button and get them to share their story and their side of things.

Zoë: What do you mean, everybody wants to talk? Everybody has a story.

JJ: Everybody has the experience that they want. It’s like they’re not; they don’t want to be Mr. or Mrs. invisible. There were some injustices that were happening; they wanted to have a listening ear. And you have to discern between that: “Is this a value or not?” The way that I would ask questions, “Well, is that your opinion, or your belief?” is because everybody has an opinion on things. But when they would say, well, that’s my belief, they’ll take action over belief. People don’t go to war over an opinion. But people will go to war over a belief. That was my way of discerning as in, “Okay, shall we continue that conversation?” because they may take action on this. So that’s worth digging into and then reporting on this so that our commanding officers can make informed decisions as to where to apply the resources. Because of the difference between Cyprus, which is peacekeeping, the Blue Beret, and NATO in terms of peacemaking, we will make peace. I like that one. That one’s more directive; it spoke to me as in, no, we’re going to.

Back then, it was an eye for implementation force that took control, and then that was the British lead. Then, six months and three months later, because a night tour happened to crossover, there was the S force, which was an American-led, stabilizing force. So, we implemented it first, and then we stabilized and kept or maintained the peace. In that area, Mostar was where I played, and then we lived in Meji Goriae, which is a religious site. The claim to fame of Meji Goriae is a religious site of three girls, three little girls; the Virgin Mary appeared with three little girls on top of a mountain, and then it’s just now it’s a pilgrimage every year. That place just keeps on growing and growing and growing. All the bad people, all the bad guys, live there. Because it’s safe to live, so they would live there. And then we play in downtown Mostar. We’d be chasing them there. And then, at night, you see them in the coffee shops. “Tomorrow, I’ll get you.” “Yeah, they’ll throw you through.” Yeah. So it was quite fascinating.

But what everybody wanted added a story. My first case study, my first as in okay, you’re there. You’ve been trained. I was the only one officially trained to be a contact handler when I came to the unit. Is that a blessing or a curse? Here we go again. Right? So don’t force yourself, don’t implement, just go with the flow and don’t try to tell them how to do things and just adapt; your time will come when you can leave your mark. And it happened. Then, they gave me a hard case right off the bat. They said, “Here you go. You need to build a relationship with the gentleman that we branded him as the self-declared mayor of Mostar.”

He wasn’t the mayor. Zoe, he wasn’t the mayor. But he was acting as if he was the mayor. He was the Al Capone. He ran the municipality. So he’s a thug, and he profited tremendously throughout the black market during the war, and I have to meet this guy, and I have to get him to say yes to me. So what helped me was, yes, the training at spy school in the UK, as in you get the mechanics, but you can’t just leave that.

You have to go and be proactive and have an appetite for reading, right? Leaders are readers. So I deep dive into a book called Personality Plus by Florence West Tower, and she calls them Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Melancholy, these medical terms, but it’s a Four Temperament Model Of Human Behaviour. It was hard to remember the names or the words. Okay, so I’m a Choleric Melancholy or Choleric Phlegmatic, like, but the description, I got it, but the names were hard to teach and for people to get. That’s why I like the simplicity of the Four Temperaments by Marston because he just put some letters. Yeah, and then the letters are a certain culture. When you go to that country or culture, you have to speak in a different way.

So, that persona, I went S. I went, whenever in doubt, you know, when you can’t read, you can’t read the other person, you can’t discern their preferred communication style, whenever in doubt, go S. they’re the nicest people in the general population. So just be the nicest person, and he would stop me, he would put his hand up. He would say, “I know who you are. And I know what you do.” I’m trying to go back under with my cover story and get some credibility, and you know, when you self-edify yourself, it’s kind of hard. Then again, he raised his hand; right, he bypassed the interpreter, and he spoke English to me. “I know who you are, and I know that you do.”

Alright, then, let’s get down to business. And I went straight into deepwater because I saw that he wanted to be communicated in a firm manner; that’s the D persona. Now, I want to be communicated in a fun matter, the S in a friendly matter. Then, the C is a factual matter when connecting with people.

So, if you can just remember the two P’s of decoding one’s preferred communication style, now you have a starting point of a quadrant and learn to say the same thing in a firm, fun, friendly, or factual manner. So that it assists you in engaging in a conversation. For me, I couldn’t imagine this, though; I’m going to be evaluated by my ability to build relationships with people when those are my lowest traits. I’m not a people-oriented type of guy. I’m a task-oriented type of guy. So, it’s a learnable skill, thank God, it’s a learnable skill. And for me, I’m like, “Okay, I have to build a relationship. Okay, before I can build a relationship, I have to have a conversation. Okay, before I have a conversation, I better; I need to have good-quality questions.”

So I memorized the 10 Most Effective Feel Good Icebreaking Questions because, like, you are more natural at this than I am. I’m not wired for this. But it’s a learnable skill. I can learn how to spend some time. Dr. Robert Rohm, who’s been my mentor since 1999, he’s strong in the I quadrant, just like you’re strong in the I quadrant. I study him, you know, how we speak and how he interacts. And it’s like, “Oh, I like this. I like that.” “Oh, I’ll do this next time.” It’s a learnable skill. I liked it so much, the 10 questions that I’ve actually now have a copy of it, as you know, if people want to have it, you can go to the website, download a copy of it.

Zoë: What’s your website? Just tell me right now. And we’ll put that in the show notes as well.


Zoë: Which has a bit of ring to it, then the retired intelligence officer.

JJ: Well, I kept on being when I left, right? Like I’m an interpersonal skills expert. That’s sort of like the lane that I was in when I was going to networking events because I had retired from the military and started my own training company. People would say, “Oh, who’s that? Who’s Who you talking to?” “Oh, that’s JJ. You know, he used to be a spy.” And they love saying that for some reason. And I was like, I’ve never branded myself as a spy. We never even think about, “Oh, that’s JJ; he used to be an operative.” An operative? And then you refer back to the movies, and it’s like, “Nah.”

When I came to find a brand as in brand identity, there was a British colleague who wrote a book, and he had the drink and drive to determine your branding as a drink and drive while you got my attention. What is that all about? So in your lane, you know, here are all these words, so pick out three words that fit into your lane. Well, I had cool, sexy, exclusive as in, in the spy in the intelligence as cool as sexy, exclusive. That’s like James Bond. Okay, now think about a drink. Well, okay, James Bond martinis. I’m not a martini guy. In the Daniel Craig series, he had Heineken. Oh, wait, Heineken. Oh, yeah, it’s cool looking. It’s exclusive, sexy-looking, and okay, Heineken.

Right, and then there’s the second exercise: think about a driving vehicle, a vehicle that relates to the Austin Martin well. But if you lived in Canada, you can’t have an Austin Martin in Canada. My gosh, it wouldn’t last the winters in there. But Daniel Craig, in his series, is the Land Rover. Oh, that’s cool, sexy, and it’s exclusive. They’re very expensive. I had to pass my British license. I also passed my British license when I was in the UK as a Land Rover.

So I’m like, “Okay, perfect. Heineken, Land Rover.” Then he says, “Now go and look to see how Heineken advertised does their marketing and how Land Rover advertising does their marketing and use that to inspire your brand versus copying everybody else’s brand.” I’m like, “Nice.” So, everything on our website has to be cool, sexy, and exclusive. Or at least have that experience, that feel. So, in time, what you’re going to see on our website, we’re going to have to test your skills. So, if you ever have an opportunity to go to the States, there’s a Spy Museum. Zoey, half a day is easy.

Zoë: Where’s the Spy Museum?

JJ: In Washington DC.

Zoë: Okay, got it.

JJ: Yeah, they’ve moved to a brand new location; it’s even bigger. And when you go in, you can take a fictitious name, as in, you can take an identity, and you’re going to be tested throughout the museum. So you take, Anatolyevich Popov okay, Anatolyevich Popov and I read him, where he was born, how old he is, and all that. Then you go to another station later down, and you’re going to be tested. Right? So you come to a checkpoint, and they ask you questions, and then you have to answer. Perfect, then they give you even more information. So now you have to build on the lie. Anyways, there are eight stations; I got killed on station three. The screen turned red; you had those big X marks; I’m like, I didn’t answer correctly because it’s the finer details. I’m like, “Well, I wasn’t paying attention. I will focus better next time.” But it was it was interesting. It was fun, and they had a lot of good branding ideas.

I have my business card, which is a coin. So, this is a decoder coin. So you’re seeing it on the screen; it has the website, but it weighs so much. But also in the back. It actually has the model.

Zoë: That’s fantastic.

JJ: It has the model that once you go to that D Country, that culture is outgoing and task-oriented, so talk in an affirming manner. So it becomes, and then they’re all marked. So they’re all unique with only one number in there, so you have your own operative number, and people have a hard time getting rid of it because they keep it, but it’s a challenge coin. If I see you and I take mine and I pull it out, and you don’t have yours, guess what? Guess who’s paying for lunch. So, it has that little military background.

Initially, I had poker chips. And the thing was, don’t gamble on your relationships; connecting with people does not have to be left to chance. So it was more like a little way of getting people to think, and people were — I was using it to mark my ball when I was playing golf. I’m like, hey, I can buy this and deduct this as business cards. Okay, so now we have these old ones because they have a certain weight to them. If we cross paths, you may be receiving one of those.

Zoë: Fantastic. JJ, are you ready for the Fast Five?

JJ: All right. No.

Zoë: Too bad we’re going

JJ: Okay.

Zoë: What’s the future technology you most want right now?

JJ: A better understanding of AI, the artificial intelligence and how to positively use it in my business moving forward.

Zoë: Okay. Best tip you ever got for leadership?

JJ: In the absence of leadership, you have to become the leadership.

Zoë: Yep, step into the void. Love it. Number three, what’s one problem in the workplace you’d love to wave a magic wand and be fixed right now?

JJ: Self-discovery, as in too many people that don’t understand or don’t know themselves and how to protect themselves from themselves. S stronger sense of self.

Zoë: Awesome. And number four, thumbs up or thumbs down? Who’s the leader you want to give a thumbs up to or a leader you want to give a thumbs down to?

JJ: Let’s go give a positive thumbs up. Dr. Robert A Rohm. Big influencer in my life since 1999. Opened my eyes to how to do just the next right thing.

Zoë: Very nice. Number five: favourite leadership book or podcast.

JJ: I’m old school so I’m gonna go with the one that influenced me to get an appetite and reading which is the first one was Thinking Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

Zoë: Oh really?

JJ: Yeah, Thinking Grow Rich, it’s just, it feeds both my C and my D trait. Think about the “C” trait and grow the “D” trait.

Zoë: Yeah. Love it. Awesome. Well, that was pretty fast five. So that was the fast five.

JJ: I survived.

Zoë: You did!

JJ: Do I get a t-shirt?

Zoë: No, no t-shirts yet for the past five

Zoë: JJ, is there a question that I haven’t asked that you’d like me to ask? And you’d like to answer?

JJ: No, not really. I think we’ve addressed it. Ahh, there’s a misconception in regards to the whole when, there’s always been an attraction to the word spy. And I think it’s one of the oldest professions that exist. Sales, prostitution, and spying, I think they’re one of the oldest. Even at the time of Moses, he sent out the spies, that would have been me to spy in the land. So I would have had a job way, way back then. But there’s a misconception, right? Because of the media and how they portray the James Bond series or Mission Impossible, the glamour is almost impossible when they’re travelling from different countries. But it’s very captivating to watch. And you see, all the widgets and the gadgets like my ring don’t do anything. My watch has no laser. I’m not so good at playing poker.

So there’s a lot of misconception. They’re fun to watch. But there are also documentaries that are very good on Netflix, on the whole spy industry, which has more realism in it.

As in less glamour, it takes a lot of time to become an operative. I just had a small window in that area, but there are others that have a whole lifetime in that industry. So, just so people know that there are a lot of misconceptions out there, they should look for more of the documentary history than the Hollywood version of the spy industry.

Zoë: Well, thank you for that. I will endeavour to do both because the spy thrillers are still good. And realism, why not? Differ the fiction with the reality that suits me as an author as well. JJ, this has been really fantastic. I’ve loved your insights. It was amazing to hear about your stories as a spy,

JJ: Retired.

Zoë: Retired spy. And all the insights he had about people really and which is a core to leadership. So thank you so much for coming on the show.

JJ: My pleasure. My pleasure.

Zoë: Well, that was super fun for me. I really love the spy world. I love reading spy thrillers and watching spy movies. And it was awesome to meet a real live spy or intelligence agent. So, my takeaway actually was to practice saying the same message in the four methodologies or the four ways of giving a message to express it by being firm for the directive style or dominant style, I should say. The fun way of expressing something for the I influence or inspirational people. The friendly methodology for the supportiveness, steadiness people and a factual way for the conscientious, cautious people. Firm, fun, friendly and factual. I think that’s a really powerful way to learn how to channel your message so that it lands the way that people want to receive their information.

JJ Brun, The Retired Spy

JJ Brun is a recognized global authority on human behaviour, communications, and relationship development who served for 20 years in the Canadian Forces in the field of Human Intelligence. JJ has dedicated his life and his business to training thousands of people in the principles of human behaviour and effective communication practices across cultures.

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