The Secret World of Military Intelligence: How It Shaped My Path to Human Behaviour Mastery

by | Nov 16, 2023 | DISC Training, Leadership, Personality Styles

Leading With Integrity is a podcast for first-time managers working in tech-driven businesses and teams who want to be more effective people-first leaders. The weekly podcast features leadership experts, entrepreneurs, and business owners who share crucial strategies, mindsets and practical tips that successful modern leaders can follow to become engaging, ethical, and authentic managers, leading their teams to success.

A few weeks ago, I was invited by David Hatch for a podcast interview where I was ecstatic to share my journey from military intelligence to helping leaders, interviewers, aspiring interrogators, government personnel and the like to succeed through the principles of human behaviour and effective communication practices across cultures.

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.

David Hatch: JJ, thank you very much for joining me today. Really nice to meet you. And I’m so pleased to welcome you to the podcast.

JJ Brun: My pleasure, David. My pleasure.

David: Great, and we’re going to start by letting you introduce yourself. Tell the listeners a bit about yourself, your career history, or at least as much as you can. What you do today, why you’re doing that, what your purpose behind it is.

JJ: Well, thank you, David. My full name is Jean Jacques Joseph Brun. I’m French Canadian. I go by JJ, and it actually came about when I was working overseas in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I was working in an office, and a British colleague came in. There were just the two of us, and he needed something that was on my desk. He said, “Hi, JJ.” I’m like, Jean Jacques, JJ — oh, he shortened it. So I turned, and I answered. And I got branded. So, it became a working name.

You know, if you don’t brand yourself, somebody else will, and I got branded JJ. But my family name is Jean Jacques because of my godfather, Joseph — because the only church we had in the village was a Roman Catholic Church. So I got all the Jays in the last name bar, which is basically if I were to translate it, John Brown.

I have two careers. I have a career that I spent 20 years in the military and also a corporate career — in which I’m still active for over 24 years. I’m a three-time award-winning speaker. So, I’m a recognized global authority in human behaviour, communication, and relationship development. During my 20 years in the military, 5 were with the combat arms, the Royal 22nd regimen and 15 were with the intelligence branch.

I have two operational tours under my belt. I’ve been privileged to be on some very unique training, the prisoner handling and tactical questioning course, which was my first time visiting the beautiful country of England. So that was in Ashford, Kent. That was a life-defining moment — the John Reed interview and interrogation technique. So, I’m a graduate, and my claim to fame during that time in the military is that I was the first one selected for the role of a contact handler. And again, another trip over in the UK. The fact that I was volunteered — all I heard was, who wants to go to the UK? I want to go to the UK, nobody else wants to go to the UK, I want to go to the UK, well you’re gonna go on this course.

A contact handler is a person where he or she is sent into a hostile environment – so for me, it happened to be Bosnia-Herzegovina — where he or she has to cultivate sources as building relationships by design and not by chance. Determine their intentions and modify their behaviours if and when required.

So, my role was going to be evaluated by my ability to network to build a community of informants so that I can advise a commanding officer so that he or she can be informed of what’s going on on the terrain so that they can allocate the proper resources so that we can maintain the peace. So Bosnia was a defining moment in my military career — the fact that I was the first one selected for that role. And then, I specialized in the field of human intelligence until my 20th year.

Fast forward. I’ve started my own training company, which is the DHC Training Solutions. So the DHC stands for Decoding Human Capital, looking at people — all of the people having human capital waiting to be discovered. And I specialize in behavioural tools.

There are over 100 different behavioural tools out there to better understand people, Myers Briggs, True Colors, Neo, the MMPI, the enneagram — there are just so many. I’ve chosen the Four Temperament Model of Human Behaviour because it’s known as the wellness model in psychology, and it’s the easiest one to understand and the easiest one to apply. So today, I’ve specialized for 30 years in the field of Human Behaviour and Understanding Human Behaviour — I have over 30,000 hours of classroom [experience] of equipping and training people for works of service anywhere from my university students, to the boardroom executive, from virtual to in-person led training, to my retreats in Cancun, Mexico. So, there’s life after the military.

So, 20 years in the military sort of gave me my foundation in regard to lessons learned. There’s a saying in the speaking industry in the entrepreneurial lane that “Your mess is your message”. Your mess — your character, building moment — your mess is your message. Your mission, if you so choose to accept it, will be to share with others what you’ve learned during that journey so you can assist and help other people along the way. And that’s the lane that I’m in right now, as in 20 years in the military, and today is the last day of our fiscal year.

I’ve been in business for 24 years, as of today. So tomorrow, I’m starting my 25th year of equipping and training people for works of service. So, long introduction, but it’s basically what what I do now. You can appreciate David in the military and specifically in the intelligence branch — I work in the shadows. After being programmed for 20 years, you need to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight, you want to make a difference in people’s lives; you want to leave a legacy for others that your life mattered. So I’m on that journey right now of increasing visibility, of letting people know lessons learned so that they don’t have to go and struggle through some of the character-building moments that I’ve experienced. And maybe from there, I can make a difference for others.

David: Well, congratulations on starting your 25th year to start with. That’s amazing. Yeah. So you’ve actually been doing that longer than you’re in the military, then. We’re doing this, I should say.

JJ: Yes, yeah.

David: Wow. Okay. Interesting. I know you refer to yourself as the Retired Spy. In fact, I’ve got it on the screen in front of me. I can see why because spy is an exciting-sounding word, isn’t it? So my question is – is it as exciting as film and TV would lead us to believe?

JJ: I never wanted to be the Retired Spy. You know, as I shared with being referred to as JJ, your brand is what people say it is. When I retired, I kept on being introduced: “Oh, this is JJ he used to be a spy.” “Oh, that’s JJ. He’s a former spy. Be careful.” “I’d be careful if I talked to him because he used to be an operative.” So you get all of these little one-liners, and I shied away from it for the first five years in business. I say I’m an Interpersonal Skills expert, a Human Behaviour Communication Relationship Development expert. I specialize in that field. I never wanted to be the Retired Spy.

The media provides us with so much that when I grew up, James Bond who was the model. Sean Connery was mine – when I grew up, he was a James Bond. Daniel Craig — love Daniel Craig! Which, you know, [he] just made it his last movie. But the media projects the glamour, that lifestyle of all the nice cool gadgets. My watch doesn’t do anything but give me the time and the day that’s it. [It] doesn’t have a laser or anything like that.

David: That was gonna be my next question – that was what is your…

JJ: That’s my pen, an ink dispensing device — that’s all it is. I can’t do anything with it. All the James Bonds are so fluent and with with the ladies, and I’m not such a good poker player. But it’s the media that projects the persona. So you tend to get labelled or characterized or pigeonholed as in, you know, characterized.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this — but in the United States, in Washington, DC, they have a Spy Museum. If you ever go to Washington, DC, you have to give yourself at least half a day, if not more, to visit the Spy Museum. In there, because they have a way of promoting everything — I even have a mascot now. This is the spy gnome, he’s got his earpiece in there. But again, the trench coat, the mystique — I never had to wear a trench coat and the glasses. I just remember when I was serving in Bosnia, I could tell who was the special forces. There were special forces on the terrain. They were dressed in civvies, but they had different types of boots. They all had the big watch. They all had Ray-Ban glasses, you cannot not communicate. You can tell. You can tell when someone doesn’t fit in because of the Gucci kits that they have, and it’s just not me.

When I was in Las Vegas, I even saw one of these [spy business cards]. So when I knew I was coming on the call — and I don’t know if you can see this — but this is Daniel Craig, and it’s a license to kill business card. I’m like, I’m not licensed to kill? Actually, I’m Operative 431, all the double zeros were taken. But double zero means something in the series, right? But it doesn’t mean anything to me, 431, because I’m the 400 and 31st graduate of the InTop — Intelligence Operators Course, way back in 1999. So, it’s amazing. Actually not 1999, it was 1989. Yeah, that’s the year I got married. I should remember that because my wife is going to quiz me on that. Yeah, I retired back in 1999 from the Intelligence Branch. But there’s no big strategic plan to becoming the retired spy. It’s just more of a brand, and it’s stuck, and there’s some stickiness to it. Your brand is what people say it is, and I’ve just accepted it and moved on with it.

David: Yeah, fair enough. I mean, nicknames are like that sometimes, though. As you say, you don’t always get the choice about it. Well, that’s the nature of a nickname, actually, isn’t it? You didn’t get to choose it. So yeah, let’s call it a British thing as well to refer to. So tell us what a career in intelligence looks like, obviously, without giving away any state secrets.

JJ: What happened to me is after five years in the infantry, so in combat arms, I was not at a very successful career. It took eight years to be a sergeant in the infantry back then. I did it in three years and 10 months. It’s a blessing, and it’s a curse. It’s a blessing because you progress rapidly, not a problem. But that was a new breed. I was bilingual, I was computer literate, six feet, 200, I was a new type of soldier back then. [In] today’s technology, the soldiering is actually at a higher level. But I was a new breed coming in. So the new guard loved JJ, but the old guard didn’t. So after five years, I was very hard on my body, and I knew I couldn’t keep that momentum — I couldn’t keep that pace. Because once I retired from the military, I had a total of three knee surgeries. One major back surgery — broke a few bones, and I got a few scars for some of the incidents that happened. So I was very hard in the first five years, hence why I was looking to change trades. When I looked at all the options, the only thing that interested me was the Intelligence Branch. I thought that was cool, sexy, exclusive, they probably have information or have access to information nobody else knows — they probably have some cool training. So the whole mystique of it, I got drawn into it. I found out that I was very good within that industry and that I had the proper temperament style to succeed within the intelligence branch.

So it was never the plan to be the spy or the retired spy because it’s more of a job. And if you talk to anybody within the intelligence community, nobody put a gun in our head to join the military. It’s more of a trade, of course, that you go, you’ll be a graduate, and it’s just a training as in, boom! Okay, so you’re certified, you’re trained as an intelligence operator, okay, you’re a staff officer check — it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be good at it. It’s just that you’ve met the criteria — okay, now, you’re going to be sent into a situation where you’re going to have to work within that field. So, I saw the first Gulf War when I graduated. And I saw the local crisis that we had up in Canada.

When I first came in, from there, I worked to get deployed into Bagotville, Quebec, which is the F18 fighter pilot. So working with the intelligence branch, or squadron up there, and 433 Fighter Squadron, and then move to another area for that to Kingston – this is where I started working within the field of human intelligence, for everything sort of like evolved from there and open up a whole different world of collecting information. We have imagery intelligence, so they can take some satellite pictures. So you know, intelligence, we can listen to your conversation, but human intelligence is actually having boots on the ground, where we actually want to interact with you. And then we’re going to present an idea for you to wear the team jersey if you wish so that we can also be informed of what’s happening on the terrain.

David: Can you share an unforgettable experience from your time as a spy? I’m sure there have been loads of them, but which would you say impacted your life the most?

JJ: First? Oh my gosh, I’m getting flashbacks. The first hour of the course — the personal handling and tactical questioning course. That was when I was in Ashford, Kent. I remember that the Garden of England is what they referred to it. And the first hour of the course — I was stripped naked, thrown into an interrogation cell, and interrogated. They call it a harsh interrogation. Nine minutes, the guy yelled at me for nine minutes nonstop, like, is he ever going to breathe? He was so close, I was wearing his breath. And I knew what he had for breakfast. That’s how close he was. And I was like, that was not in the curriculum. That was not where this says that we’re going to go through this. But here’s the logic. If you’re going to be an interrogator, doesn’t it stand to reason that you should know how it feels to be interrogated? I never thought of it that way. A truth spoken is not as powerful as a truth that’s been self-discovered. So I was amazed by how much that instructor captured – see, I hadn’t answered any of his questions in nine minutes. After the interrogation, I got dressed and got back in the classroom, I was walking with my head down. I’m like, I’m over my head here. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I shouldn’t be here. All the students that were feeling the same thing. And I was student number three. And all the instructors lined up and then went through everything that they had captured. I was flabbergasted at how much he knew about me. As in, I didn’t answer any of his questions, but he knew my triggers for the next one.

Because he was reading all the micro-movements that you cannot not communicate. And he was using a tool called BSA Behavioural Symptom Analysis. And I became a student right there. Right there. I became a student for life as in I want to learn more about that. How did you notice? Where did you get this information? How can I get this information? How can I get trained and certified in this? So it takes its roots in NLP Neuro Linguistic Programming, with the eye accessing cues and all the micro-movements that we tend to use because we’re not wired to lie. When we do lie, we will release clues and cues, or often they will see leakage. We will leak that there is…something’s just not right with what that person just said. And then it goes into the power of the question: the better you are at asking questions, the better you’re going to be at engaging in conversation, the better you’re going to be able to lead into building a relationship, whether it’s professional or prefer personal relationship. So yeah, oh my gosh, that base doesn’t exist anymore, though, because they built a tunnel underneath it. So that was like, Oops, yeah. But it was a life-defining moment. My first experience going to the UK, taking the train and landing at an undisclosed area, there was one taxi – I showed him an address on paper, and he dropped me in an onion field. There was no…you couldn’t see the base because you had to climb up a hill and then go down, and then you would see the whole base. And it was amazing 2 fences. It’s like a war movie, as in you have to clear one fence, and then the middle part is where the dogs would control. Then you clear the other fence, and then you would go down, and then you’d have the whole camp. And it was just amazing — as in this was the mothership. This is where in Canada, the core as in the branch as in the Intelligence core, that’s where we took it from as in we have our roots there. It has a rich history, and it’s sad that it’s no longer there. It’s just not the same. It’s just not the same when we were there, and I experienced all the different British cuisines. So it was my gosh, I need to go back.

David: You’re being very generous by using the word cuisine, I think.

JJ: Well, I never had like the traditional British breakfast. You’ve got the beans right. You’ve got the tomatoes. You got the mushrooms. You got the eggs. My first experience of eating fried toast. Back then, I’m like, what?! I never had curry until I went to the UK. So, of course, at the end of every program, or every course, it tends to be the course party or the class party and going to an Indian restaurant, that tends to be what would happen. And I’ve never had. And one of the chief instructors goes, “Oh, I’m sitting with you.” But he educated me. That’s good leadership right there. He educated me because I could have had a very bad experience of eating Indian cuisine, right? The curry. But he explained to me, do you like it hot or spicy? What’s the difference? I don’t know. So, he explained everything to me as in the mild and then what is true, and having that little yogurt, and then the cucumbers and how we can assist. And Naan. It’s funny because, in Canada, we say Naan bread. Then somebody goes, well, Naan means bread. So what you’re saying is bread bread. I did not know that.

David: Yeah, but we do know it. And we still do that. So, there you go.

JJ: Definitely my first experience in the UK, and that course the interrogator course – it did strike a cord in regards that I wanted more. I wanted to learn more about this, and it prepared me for my second deployment as my first deployment was marked as peacekeeping — so that was in Cyprus. Being bilingual, I work with the Greeks and the Turks because English is the working language, I mean, the French regimen and the fact that I’m bilingual puts me in a position where I’m with the leadership because I can manage the radios I can translate. And I get increased visibility because of the skill sets or the additional skill sets that I have.

The second deployment was peacemaking. So, the first part of the tour was under a British-led mission. So it was IFOR — the Implementation Force. From the three months end, they switched to an American-led mission, which became SFOR — Stabilizing Force. So, for me, being the first one selected — the first Canadian selected, there were some concerns or, well, fears. I did not want to be the first one to fail at this — the first Canadian to fail.

David: You must have met some pretty memorable characters in that line of work. Do any of them stand out in particular?

JJ: I was trained in the UK. Once this was over, I was sent to London for an overnight, and then I flew into Zagreb. The next day flew into Sarajevo. Somebody picked me up in Sarajevo. Then it took two days to make my way down to Mostar, which is about four hours south of Sarajevo. And then somebody picked me up to bring me to the safe house in Medjugorje, which is a religious site in Bosnia where the Virgin Mary appeared in the mountains to three girls, and they made the whole thing. So we lived in the community, the safe house, and we had anywhere from five to seven different nationalities — English being the working language in there.

But my first assignment as a contact handler was a gentleman that we looked at in the section branded him as the self-declared mayor of Mostar. He was not the mayor. But he projected he had this persona. He would be what I would call the Al Capone. As in, he ran the village in that area. You have the Croats, the Serbs, the Muslims — he was Croatian descendent. However, he was more of a hardliner. So he was sort of educated in terrain, the former communist way of leadership, I guess, or dictatorship would be a better one. But he was big, bold, and in charge. So the first time that I met him was because that was my first case. I had to get him to join us in regard to what we’re doing. So I learned the local common introductions all through — [speaking in Foreign Language]. And it goes through an interpreter and back to him, interpreter, back to us, and we’re having a conversation.

What saved me is that I’m not a conversationalist, I had to learn how to ask questions in order to start a conversation in order to lead to building a relationship —- and in this case, a professional relationship. So it’s all about the power of the question, and I have memorized the 10 most effective feel, feel-good, ice-breaking questions. Because I was told that if you memorize these 10 questions, you will always be able to carry a conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

So the first question in this is, “How did you ever get started in the widget business?” You have to replace the word widget. So when I first met him, [speaking in Foreign Language]. And then it’s like, it’s awkward if nobody talks, right? I’m waiting for my time. And then I’m like, “I’m just curious.” See those three words. I’m just curious. As soon as you say to someone, “Hey, I’m just curious,” the subconscious mind of that person stays open. I mean, because we’ve got so much distraction today. So by asking, I’m just curious that he comes closer. How did you ever get interested in politics? How did you ever get interested? How do you ever get started in politics? So I just asked that question. Because if you ask that question at the right time, right home, the right person will talk for 10 minutes nonstop. He did not follow the same training as I did because he talked for 45 minutes nonstop. 45 minutes of blah blah. But the more he talked, the more I was able to discern his preferred communication style. Because you cannot not communicate. I don’t remember that 45 minutes of the blah, blah, blah. But I do remember his first statement; the first thing that he said is, “Well, you know, I am an educated man.” Who says that, well, in that culture, education puts you at a certain level, if you don’t have an education, you’re at the bottom. But if you have an education, you’re on the top, you should respect me because I’m educated. Wow. So I became smaller, and he became bigger. But that was a defining moment of the power of the question. And I use it today to the point where now, I actually have it as in if you wanted a copy, you can just go to theretiredspy.com and scroll all the way down. And you can get your own copies of a nine-page PDF on the power of the question.

Now, I use the 3-4-5 approach. Three words, like in business, if you’re gonna be that manager, if you’re gonna be that supervisor, that leader, get good at asking questions. And as soon as you say, I’m just curious, they stopped using this phone for some reason. Oh, what are you curious about?

“Well, you know how…” Well, you know how. Well, you know how — and then just finish that sentence. I’m looking to make a connection for them to go up and down (nodding head). Would it be okay… then I follow up. Would it be okay if we can connect over lunch? Would it be okay if I send you more information? Would it be okay if I introduce you to someone that could benefit from your expertise?

So I’m just curious; well, you know how; would it be okay if. Being that I’m in a conversation, I needed a system in order to be able to talk to people. But I now use it both in business and in my personal life. My son’s female acquaintance. I’ll ask her, “I’m just curious: how did you ever meet?” Well, you know how — and like, I can have that conversation. My daughter just got married last week. So with her male acquaintance — so I’m a dad, so I don’t call boyfriend or girlfriend, your male acquaintance or a female acquaintance until you put a ring on it. Now he’s my son-in-law, so now he’s no longer a male acquaintance. But that’s how I would start a conversation. I’m just curious. Well, you know how… Would it be okay if. And then, from there, you have those 10 questions that you can ask, and it makes a difference. I had to live it first, which was spoken is not as powerful as the truth. It’s been self-discovered. So I have to live with that. And then from there — it’s sad that I had to go through all these tours to learn how to talk to people. I guess I’m not wired that way.

David: But you know, whatever works for you, right? I mean, I don’t know why you’re sad to need the system, as long as the system works. But if it doesn’t work, that might be a bit sad. But yeah, that’s for the 45-minute answer to the question. I mean, there’s a politician, isn’t it? I think that’s a universal language of politics. Is it not? It’s talking too much.

JJ: Well, he had access to so much, he was a fascinating character. As you see, I have five books that I’ve published, whether it’s co-authored, or I’ve authored five books. I became a best seller by accident, my methodologies in the book, and they sold 60,000 copies. And that automatically put me in as a subject matter expert, but they have adopted my methodology in regard to how you go about establishing and maintaining rapport with people in the highest state of relatability that you can have. But then there was another book that had an article or a chapter, there was an opportunity because somebody had pulled out — so I wrote 2500 chapters on “From The Shadows To The Spotlight.” That turned into an international bestseller. Not because of me, because they knew how to work the algorithm, I guess, with Amazon, but that’s kind of cool. I got these five. But I first got published in Bosnia by the self-declared mayor of Mostar. He actually put my name, my cover story in the local newspaper and told everyone where I lived in Medjugorje. That’s like, that movie, the Ironman, when he tells the bad guy where he lives in Malibu. He published my name, my cover story for everyone to read. So when that happens, as in, okay, you’re burned, wow, technically not, he just repeated everything. But no one was taking notes during that meeting, that room was bugged. Because of the amount of information that…I still have that newspaper. I kept a copy of it. And I first got published in Bosnia. What we found out afterwards is that he was looking to elevate his position within NATO — as a NATO talk to me, not to the actual mare. So there was a positioning here, there was a reason why.

Then, when that happens, the section lead decided that, okay, you’re no longer going to talk to your Serb contacts, you’re no longer going to talk to your Muslim contacts, you’re only going to talk — you’re only going to cultivate sources of the Croats. You want to focus on all of the hardliners. You’re going to be their go-to person. And in the end, that’s what happened. They said you — referring to me —as in you will talk to your general on our behalf. So it provided me with that unique approach, and he was just not good. He profited tremendously throughout the black market during the war. But he was in charge of everything. He was in charge of the “Canton,” the “opština,”. He ran the aluminum factory, and then he was a team captain of his football team. We say soccer, but over there — right football, and he didn’t get challenged to a football match when I was there also. So quite interesting.

David: Yeah, interesting is one word for it. I don’t think that’s the way that I would like to be published if it ever happens. So I have to ask you then, given that story, how do you now feel about the phrase there’s no such thing as bad PR?

JJ: I just didn’t know back then.

David: And what can you tell us about it? Some of the work itself that you got to do. So I imagine there’s quite a lot of time spent in training, for example, and the non-training — the real-world stuff, you probably can’t talk about too much. But if you had to pick something that was particularly exciting or meaningful, or perhaps you learned the most from, what would that be? Do you think?

JJ: A lot of members within the intelligence community, we don’t necessarily miss the job, per se, we miss the game, we miss the interaction. Yeah, I have these deployments. But you know what, I have more fun, more memorable events during the training because we’re a-cluistic — one without a clue. Like, I’ve never interrogated. It’s not something that we or I go through, in high school or university to learn like, no. And you’re really not good at it at the front as in when we first had to train to do a harsh interrogation, they put a silhouette — a paper silhouette of a person in front of you, and you have to yell at that person for nine minutes nonstop. What am I gonna talk about for nine minutes, like you got to be really creative. I was done in 15 seconds because of all of my English swear words, I’ve used them all. And so at the end, you know what, I started interrogating in French. And when I did have a live event with a live instructor, because this is where you’re gonna be evaluated, and I went in, and I was using the different approaches: the friendly approach, the mother approach, the lawyer — not the lawyer approach, but the leader approach, the harsh anything, you need to be able to switch and change. I was sure that I was failing like it was not going well at all.

Because of everything that I was trying, he was not biting in. I said, well, you know, the heck with this, then I’m just gonna go French. And I went French on him up, down, left, right. I just went, and I called him everything that I could call him and just — that saved my bacon. Because as soon as I switched, I got into his brain. He did not know what or where I was going. He just knew I was real. And then I was in as in because that’s what you’re looking to go, is to go inside the person’s brain and start questioning because they don’t know what to do next.

That was an A-HA moment in regards to, oh, so a lot of the character-building moments, the failures, if you wish, during your training. Oh, this is a funny language barrier that you and I or Canadian and then British. We were practicing doing an extraction. So that was on the contact handling course. And back then, you were not allowed to be in uniform in the UK. As in, there was, it was a no-no to be in uniform. And when we got there, they just started as going into uniform in population. So we were getting a lot of attention from people looking at us because oh, what’s all these green people — because we were multinationals, we had British Canadians, Americans, Germans on the course — I was funny — New Zealanders, Norwegian, like we’re all green, what are we doing?

So we’re practicing an extraction that takes a whole day of practice. And then somebody going to be walking, and then it’s not like we’re going to grab, and we’re just going to interact, and then they’re going to get into a vehicle but in a natural way that it will not draw any attention to us. So after all of this is done, I get debriefed, and the instructor, the instructor, has trick questions. They will ask you so, how do you think he did? It’s like as my first time, so I was like, yeah, and he says, and then he said the following? That was complete shite. And I’ve never heard the word shite. And I’m like, it sounds nice to the ear. But it’s not good. Like he didn’t look happy. But it’s like “shite”. That was complete shite. And I’m like, okay, I’m seeing a physiology of him not being happy, but it sounds nice to my ear. So when I finished, I went back to the class and then students asked me how did it go? Well? He said it was complete shite. Oh, and I’m like, okay, help me here, shite. Is that like C H I T E, or is it S H * T?

David: Yes, I’m not really sure of the origins, but I think it’s like a different pronunciation, isn’t it?

JJ: But then he said, boy, is it shite as in S H * T. And I’m like, well, that’s not shite, that’s sh*t. Well, sh*t, stay crapper pool, you’re effed up! And I’m like, oh, my gosh, the language barrier, right? So, even the word sometimes as it’s pronounced differently. England has maybe five different English dialects and accents that you can pick up, depending upon which part of the…

David: Yeah, there’s probably more than five, to be honest. I mean, there’s gonna be more just in London.

JJ: Well, I have to be careful because sometimes I’ll take up on the accent and start talking like this. And they think I’m from a certain part of the country. Same thing when I visit France, I’ll pick up on the French dialect and then start talking Parisian French, which is different, but it’s interesting, it was a language barrier. But the training quite often all the specialized training because we go through the same challenge of we are a-clueistic, one without a clue. And it’s only by being stretched that we gain value from that training.

David: What would be the biggest leadership lesson that you’ve taken from your career so far?

JJ: I’ve discerned that there are four levels of awareness that a manager or a supervisor or leader has to be made aware of. There’s environmental awareness, situational awareness, self-awareness, and legacy awareness. So environmental awareness would be a moment in time where you discover or experience something new. So, being on that interrogated course — that was new. Being on that contact handlers course —- that was new.

Situational Awareness is when you’re actually on site. Well, nothing will prepare you, no training will prepare you to ever go into a war zone, the smell, the scenery. But this situational awareness is a moment in time where you get to apply what you’ve discovered and experienced in environmental awareness because there’s nothing like being on the ground and knowing what you can and cannot do in certain situations. But it won’t work. It won’t work unless you have a strong sense of self. A leader has a strong sense of self. I haven’t seen anyone who excels at leadership if they don’t have a strong sense of self. Because if you don’t have that, you go back to environmental awareness — more training, situational awareness – more training. Environmental situation, environmental situation — and you keep on looping and looping. And I call that a TED moment, a Temporary Enthusiasm Disorder because you don’t have a strong sense of self. Self-awareness is where you understand your strength and you know how to protect yourself from yourself, which will then catapult you to legacy awareness. Legacy awareness is a moment in time when everything you’ve invested in your life outlives your life. So that’s where I’m at, I want to make a difference in people’s lives. I’m documenting things like I’ve never done before. Why? Because so that my son can see what I did way back so that my daughter — so brand new website, the website is turning into a bilingual website, I’m archiving all these little war stories that I can talk about there on one place so that I can leave a legacy. And I’ve assisted also in, in helping people gain their credentials here in regard to the Four Temperament Model Of Human Behaviour. I’m an executive master trainer in the Four Temperament Model Of Human Behaviour, often referred to as the DISC Model Of Human Behaviour. So I’m the trainer of trainers now because of the amount of time and effort and/or time invested. It doesn’t matter to me which model did you choose to adopt out of the 100 models I shared before, pick one, master it, and put in the time. You want to be an effective leader? Oh, you better have a model of reference because you can’t lead the same way.

When there was a course and people were saying only the outgoing and task-oriented, driven, dominant direct persona are the leaders. And I said, you’re off track here because there’s four different leadership styles. So, a leader is not one who looks behind to see who’s following them. A leader is one who knows who they’re following as they move ahead. So, for a person that I’m very strong in the directive style of leadership, that’s cool. Those are my strengths. My lowest traits, as in the ones that I should be aware of, are my supportive traits, and that’s leading from the back — making sure nobody’s left behind. Well, that’s valuable, but providing them with words of encouragement so that they can finish a line. So in regards to a leader, if you’re going to be a leader, you have to have self-awareness, understanding your strengths, and also understanding your struggles as in your blind spots, because then you can protect yourself from yourself as you move forward.

So in that whole area, because here, I work with law enforcement, and I trained their trainers. I worked with Revenue Canada, and in their leadership program, I trained their trainers, in Canada, we have a Canada School of Public Service, which is the highest institute of excellence for all civil servants. This is everywhere, as in their management course and their supervisory courses, and they use our psychometric assessment tool in their program. So it’s all about having self-awareness. So environmental moves into situational self-awareness, which will lead the legacy because we all want to leave something behind. Right and not chaos. So if that’s the leaders out there, then you know that in order to be at the legacy, I haven’t seen anyone that has achieved that legacy awareness without having that self-awareness aspect of leadership.

David: I agree. Yeah, I mean, I’m constantly talking about self-awareness. It is just one of those parts of leadership – I mean, and it’s not just for leadership, is it? I think you’ve got to have it if you’re going to be a successful leader because successful leaders are able to improve themselves over time, which is impossible if you’re not self-reflecting, right? Because you can’t improve what you don’t know is wrong or needs improvement. That’s pretty — I like to do that — that’s pretty logical. But some people question that. I can see again, in your little model, the listeners probably won’t be able to see it unless they’re watching us on YouTube. But I like the models, I can see how that aligns with some established leadership theories as well. So direct here is going to align quite well with autocratic, the supportive is going to align with servant leadership probably —- not sure about the cautious leader, though.

JJ: They’re more aloof or more on the outside looking in. But it’s like leading in the shadows. But they’re involved, as in, they can see the back, they can see the front, they can see the center.

They just made sure that everyone was following the procedures or the protocols, but in leadership, like that self-declared mayor of Mostar, the power of the question provided me an opportunity to engage in a conversation, and he kept on talking and talking. And the more he talked, the more he revealed his preferred communication style. So, for me to build a professional relationship, I needed to match his preferred communication style. It was not about me, it was about the other person, the same thing for a leader.

So if you’re more outgoing and very much task-oriented, task-focused, you’re known as the Driven Persona. If you’re more outgoing and people-oriented, well, you’re known as the Inspiring Persona, because of that enthusiasm and energy, you’re just you’re people magnet, they’re naturally drawn to you. If you are more reserved and people-oriented, you’re known as the Supportive Persona. You are by far the nicest person that people will ever meet in their life. And if you’re still reserved, however, very much task and focus [oriented], you tend to be more of the Cautious Persona, often referred to as the artist or the wisest person. So, we have these forming personas or traits in us to a lesser or greater degree. You’re not a letter, you’re not a colour, you’re not a symbol –- you’re a beautiful blend of these four traits. But the self-declared mayor of Mostar, was he more outgoing? Or was he more reserved?

So, for me, if I’m looking to decode one’s preferred communication style. I have the two P’s so I can share that with your audience. Always look for the first P, as in the Pace Perspective. Are they fast pace, or are they slow pace, you cannot not communicate, so pay attention. They talk fast, they talk slow. Do they talk loud? Talk softly, right? The physiology will also provide you. Are they outgoing, or they’re more reserved? Their physiology. You cannot not communicate. That’s known as the Pace Perspective. So that self-declared mayor had a higher pace perspective than a lower pace perspective, he’s a little bit more outgoing and reserved. And it’s not like 100% or 0%, it’s like a little bit more like he was about 55 – 60% more outgoing and 35 – 40% more reserved.

Then the second P is the Priority Perspective, priority as in towards tasks, getting things done, or interacting, socializing, and being with people. He was all about the task. With the words that he chose to use, you could really tell he was not going to be small talk or chit chat. We’re talking about meaningful things and getting things done. Perfect. So I saw that he was very strong in that directive, or that driven persona, and also some of that cautious persona.

So I know that if they’re if you’re more from that driven persona, I need to communicate and a firm matter. If you’re more inspiring, I need to communicate with you in a fun matter. If you’re more on that supportive side, I need to communicate in a friendly manner. And if you’re more cautious, if that’s your style, I need to communicate to you in a factual manner — when connecting with people, [it] matters. So it is easy to have the two Ps to discern a starting point. Whenever in doubt, you’re going to go and be friendly. So when I first met that self-declared, I was operating ends of that because I didn’t know who he was, I didn’t have a chance. And I was talking that language able to say the same thing in a different way. Like how do you present an idea? As a leader, how do you present an idea in order to gain by decoding one’s preferred communication style? How do you decode somebody’s computer for the preferred communication style? The two Ps: Pace Perspective [and] Priority — give you a starting point to be firm, fun, friendly, or factual. In this case, I started in the friendly. And after a while, he got tired of me. And he would look at me, and we would no longer look at the translator. And he was speaking English. Because I remember, I still remember today. He was, “I know who you are. And I know what you do.” I’m like, crap. What does that mean?

So I go back into the friendly and try to do my cover story and get more credibility and blah, blah, blah. And again, now he puts his hand up. “I know who you are, and I know what you do.” So that was strike number two. And I’m like, well, it’s not gonna be strike number three. And when he said that, then said, “Okay, well, let’s get down to business then.” I went from friendly to firm, and that’s where we were able to build a relationship — professional relationship. He wanted to be known as the go-to, I wanted to have access to his circle of influence, and he was in charge, he was the big bowl and in charge of everything. And it was by matching his preferred communication style that I was able to build that relationship. Same thing with your audience, as in self-awareness is understanding that people don’t do things to you, they do things for themselves. So what does that mean? Learn to decode one’s preferred communication style, then learn to say the same thing in a different way so that you can gain some buy-in so that you can influence people to your desired outcome. In a firm, fun, friendly or factual manner. That’s what having a model of reference will add to a manager, supervisor or anyone in any leadership role. You really assess them and be able to say the same thing in a different way.

David: Yeah, it’s a really interesting model and approach. I can see immediately how useful that would be for any leader, particularly for a new manager or new leader, maybe someone who’s moved to a new company new role. I mean, one of the biggest challenges there is building that rapport with people in your team, isn’t it straight away? I mean, you’ve just given everyone a really nice framework to do that. So thanks. So I’m just conscious of time, I must say I’ve been listening rapidly. It’s been very hard to stop you and change the subject because it’s so interesting. A couple of questions I would like to get into though, if we can. So the first one I think is, what is the biggest mistake that a leader can make?

JJ: Self-awareness. The four levels of awareness. I wish I had known this in high school. The more you don’t know about yourself, the more you can be true and authentic and not be influenced by outside influences. When you don’t have good self-esteem and self-worth — anxiety creeps in you, you question your existence, pushed to the extreme, you may want to even take out your life.

David: If you could go back in time, so to the beginning of your career, what advice would you give your younger self?

JJ: When I was in high school, your parents, your relatives, your friends, we always ask, so what do you want to do? What are you gonna do? And they have, you know, the parent wants you to be an engineer, they want you to be a doctor or lawyer, all these career paths. I come from an entrepreneurial family. And my dad would always say, make sure you get yourself a good, secure federal job. Because he was an entrepreneur. He had a gas station, a sawmill, and a wood chip business. But it was hard. It’s hard being an entrepreneur. But he would see people working for the government, knocking off work early. My dad would leave at seven o’clock in the morning, he’d come back at seven o’clock at night. So I got those working habits from him. But in government, like, Friday afternoon, they’re off, they’re back. And he was a little bit jealous, I think, in regards to that lifestyle that they had.

So I just remember, in high school, I had a very low self-esteem of myself until I discovered sports. Playing football and playing basketball, I was a shot putter for the high school. I became a shot putter, also for the university. So, for me, I was going into that sports lane. But I was not in the proper program, as in being in Phys. Ed. that means that you’re going to be a teacher. I never wanted to be a teacher, and I never wanted to go back to being that professor in school and teaching Phys Ed, I should have been in a spad program, which is the business of sports. How do you run a hockey team? How do you manage a hockey team? How do you manage the Olympics, you know, the business of sports. Because I have that entrepreneurial side, that would have been a better fit. But I had a fight with Dad, I left university, I joined the military, I was just tired of being told what to do. And you join the military? Yeah, I was I was 19 and very naive at that time, but I was wired for the military. I had that persona that they were looking for. So, I thrived. I’ve had a very, very successful career in the military and got advanced promotions to operational tours. So the military wasn’t bad for me as in, it would have been nice if, in high school, I knew who I was, if I knew my talents, my strengths, and my blind spots.

So, for me, that would be one thing if I were to go back, I wish I knew more about. Like this model that I studied. Well, I want to make sure that my kids, because I learned about that model when I was coming close to 40, is when I learned about that model. I was reading, but I’ve never been trained or certified in the model. I was just reading books on the different personas out there, and there’s because there’s a lot of literature out there. And you know, would’ve been nice – should’ve, could’ve, would’ve, sure would’ve been nice. But now I was in a position where while I’ve lived this, your mess is your message. Well, that was my mess. The mission, if you so choose to accept it, is to share with others. So, I shared it with my son and my daughter at a young age. So that when they do hit high school, they don’t have to live what I lived.

My daughter did a self-assessment audit, and it produced close to a 40-page computerized report on her. 1/3 of the report was my biggest concern, David, I was going to raise my daughter as a drill sergeant. That’s like when the only instrument you have is a hammer. You see everybody as a nail, right? I don’t know who’s the author that…is it Milestone? Someone made reference to this — that if you only have a hammer, you see everybody as a nail. And I did not want to nail my son and my daughter to the post, I didn’t want to parent them in that military fashion if you wish, or based on my temperament style. So when she did the assessment, 1/3 of the reports were for the child, so I would read the report to her. And it raised her self-esteem and her self-worth, that she is beautifully made and has all these talents, there’s nothing wrong with her, etc. The 2/3 of the reports for me as the parent — this is your child, this is how to parent to the traits of your child. Oh, my gosh, sure would’ve been nice if Dad had that report when I was [younger]. But no, there’s a reason why you go through these character-building moments.

And then the last are the reports for the teacher. Here’s your students; here’s how to teach to the straight traits of your students. So, I would always photocopy the last part of the report and give that to all of her teachers when she was going to school. So it made a difference for them. One day, my daughter was walking home from school, and her best friend was on one side of the road. And she was walking from, and you could tell they were no longer talking and that they had a fight. When she came into the house. And it’s like, Mickey, are you okay? Mickey’s her little nickname. Mickey, are you okay? Did you and Melissa have a fight? Oh, Dad, it’s okay. Her D Persona is out of control. She’ll be fine tomorrow. Talk about protecting yourself from yourself knowing that it’s not me, it’s the other person, they’re just having a bad day. It’s okay. Tomorrow is going to be another day. Wow! As opposed to absorbing. So life provides you with these character-building moments, but you can also make a difference in applying what you’ve learned.

So, for me, if I were to go back, it sure would have been nice, but then again, maybe I needed to go through it so that others don’t have to go through it. And I just see myself as I pioneer a lot of new things. I did that in the military, and I succeeded. So, for me, failure is just an opportunity to learn and grow. And then apply what you’ve learned, and you get better at it.

Five years ago, I did a program called Enhanced Investigative Interviewing. So it’s a behavioural-based program of how to interview, debrief, and elicit information from people. There was a student on that course. Five years ago, he reached out to me because I’d stopped teaching him. I get bored. It changed his whole life. Now he’s in charge of his department. Now he wants everybody trained because he still uses it. That was five years ago, and you’re still on — every day. Really? I’m like, Huh. And it goes, well, I got 16 people, can you train them? Okay, we’re putting back the program, and it’s like, okay, well, let’s update everything. So because of the majority of people that are in the interviewing and debriefing profession, they don’t tend to have any formal training. In interviewing and debriefing, you go through a job interview, and they’re not trained — human resources are not trained in conducting an interview. So you go through that stoic face, and they just look at you with no emotions, they don’t give you any energy when you’re answering. So it’s quite fascinating. Up here in Canada, the Governor General, they allocate — it takes two years for you to be honoured with a medal. I’ve got it from the Governor General. They spend two years researching, interviewing everyone around to make sure that there’s nothing, no skeletons in the closet. And she was sharing with me that we have no formal training and interview in debriefing. We’re just basically whatever the other person told us to do is what we do. And I’m like, so I designed a behavioural base, that by decoding one’s preferred communication style, you now can interview or debrief them according to how they’re wired. So it’s all about building relationships first, how do you do that? Well, it’s the rapport ladder. How do you establish and maintain rapport? So then I designed that because it’s a teaching bull model, people can actually memorize the rapport ladder because there are four rungs: listening, observing, discerning and speaking.

David: Yes, there’s quite a lot to unpack in that last answer. I think the thing that stuck out to me the most is when you’re talking about, I wish I’d known, and it makes me say it’s the eternal time machine dilemma, isn’t it? Like everyone — who wouldn’t want the ability to travel back in time and change something in their past? But then, if you really think about it deeply, if you’re relatively happy with the way your life is right now. There’s always that one or two things you wish you’d done differently at the time. But if you change that, who knows what would have happened differently? And you might have ended up not being as happy as you are now. So, for me, I’m definitely a “don’t rock the boat” person when it comes to the time travel dilemma.

JJ: It’s all part of learning and growing. There’s no accident. Life happens to you, or life happens for you. So, for you is more of a growth mindset than a fixed mindset. A leader needs to be on a growth mindset. You don’t have to, you get to. I don’t have to bring my daughter to the dance recital, I get to bring my daughter to the dance recital. I don’t have to empty the dishwasher, I get to empty the dishwasher. It’s a different mindset. And you don’t take things so personally. It’s just that life provides you with these opportunities. So it is short, like I’m 60 years old now on this planet. So I have less of a runway than when I first started. So you do want to make a difference in your life. You want to leave your mark if you wish. With the time that you have. I know for me, there’s a little, there’s a window, and I’m like, yeah, now it’s like, I still got 10 more years in me, I got more years of making a difference of travelling and sharing and equipping people for works of service. I’m not done. Some of my colleagues are retiring. And like retiring? There’s just so much more to do, like, life is fun. There’s just so much for us to be able to impact others, I wouldn’t have met you, David and the office here. You’re in Ottawa, you got to visit Canada a few years ago. Don’t forget, you know, just Google the Retired Spy and then reconnect. And then from there, I will tour you in Ottawa, I will be your guide. So that you get the insight and you’ll see the British influence that we have.

David: I was just thinking the irony of calling yourself the Retired Spy when you’re talking about how you don’t really want to retire, ever.

JJ: Your brand is what people say it is, so I accepted it.

David: Last question, my favourite question that every guest is always asked. I call it Leadership Heroes. So the question is, if you had to pick one person, and they can be anyone you like, alive, dead, past, president, real or fictional — who would perfectly embody leadership, in your opinion, who would that person be and why?

JJ: That’s a good question. So it’s very much a thought-provoking question. The first person you know, you go back to — well, my father was an influencer. The word hero. I’m not a big fan of the word hero. It just has a different definition. Serving in the military, and when people find out that you served in the military and I receive — they thank you for your service. But when they refer to you as a hero, and I’m like, I’m no hero. It’s more of who are the mentors out there that I listened to or that guided me towards being a better person.

My father passed away a few years ago, so I would say he was definitely a mentor. There are two people that come to my mind right now. Michael Hughes, here up in Canada, really assisted and helped me to translate from the military to the civilian side to start my own business. Great mentor and a leader in the community — he’s the networking guru, Canada’s networking guru. So he’s a very good role model. An influencer, leader, mentor, friend.

In the States, it would be Dr. Robert A. Rohm. The President, still President of Personality Insights, whom I met back in September of 1999. I’m going to be with them in two weeks I’ll be in Cancun with them. So he’s now more of a sage. Do we use a sage or sage? S A G E?

David: I think we would say sage. But then, for us, it’s also a herb, isn’t it?

JJ: Well, it’s just that he’s at that state that the amount of wisdom and insights that comes from him. And he remembers history, he remembers things. He’s very good at this and remembers people’s names and what he learned. So I would say Dr. Robert A. Rohm would be one of those — well, he still is a mentor, influencer, leader within the community.

For the living, the elsewhere. I’m just reminded of the wisest man who ever lived. So Solomon is often referred to as the wisest man who ever lived. So I’ve studied that book – it’s the book of Proverbs because it has like 31 chapters. It’s kind of funny, 31 days in a month like you could read it over and over. And I remember that. And it’s just common sense living is found in there. So there’s a lot of things out there, and I’m not looking to be religious. It’s more that you need to have a spiritual side of you to be an effective leader. That’s life balance. So spirituality is one of the areas that we look into. When we do goal setting. Regards to where you’re at. I found out the hard way that there is a God, and it’s not me, or I was informed that it’s not me. Because when you’re very young as in, you just think that you’re everything. But in the end, you’re not. And it’s like, I don’t take myself too seriously. Probably why I keep that JJ, The Retired Spy. I don’t take myself too seriously. There are some great people that really made a difference. How can you read a book and still get insights from the book from all those years that it’s been written? So you’ve got a lot of authors out there — that Napoleon Hill series? Yeah. Oh, my gosh. That’s such a good question, David.

So yeah, in regards to the living, I would say Michael Hughes and Dr. Robert A. Rohm. Outside are people who wrote books that are still impactful today, and Solomon’s writing in there is very insightful. The word insight, you know, here we decode it. Insights: the ability to see things others overlook. Wow. Glad you don’t have too many of these thought-provoking questions.

David: That one’s always the most difficult one, but that’s deliberate to an extent.

JJ: So, did all the others?

David: Yeah, people do struggle with it, sometimes. I think I’ve had a few people who’ve had similar views to using the word hero, and I totally see where that coming from. But at the same time, it’s a nicer phrase, isn’t it, than having to use several other words to mean the same thing? And I’m quite lazy about that sort of thing. So there we go.

But I like your choices as well, particularly because a lot of the answers I get is people from history, you know, where we’re —- I mean, anyone from history, there’s always a bit of a gray area, isn’t there? What do their contemporaries actually think of them? Are they really that great? Were they really that knowledgeable? Were they even that great a leader? How are we ever going to know, particularly the further back you go, the worse that problem gets? And then it’s just a bit abstract. Some of the fictional characters we’ve had it been quite entertaining, but that’s probably it. Although they’re nice as well because they’re an aspirational thing rather than a real-world thing. And sometimes that is useful as well.

What’s a lot rarer is what you’ve just given us, which is people you’ve actually interacted with, people that you personally have learned something from in a real-world setting. And so I think that’s really good. Making it really difficult for me to comment on them because I don’t know. But the important thing is that you do, and you’ve learned some, you’ve gained something. And that whole conversation you’ve just had about the source of wisdom and finding that insight in life. I think that’s really important and powerful because we get tied up, I think quite a lot in thinking that knowledge or wisdom has to be somehow complicated by these big grand ideas, when quite often it doesn’t. It can be a simple truth, but just being able to see that when others have overlooked it exactly, as you’ve said, yeah, really love all that.

And finally, just to round us up, at the end, I’ve no doubt the listeners will have been as captivated as I have been by the stories you’ve told us today. Thank you so much for that. But if any of them would like to get in touch with you to learn more about what you do, would you like to point them towards a website or book, or similar, or both?

JJ: If ever you, David, or anybody from your audience wanted to connect, on the website, there is a little area where you can actually see my calendar. And you can get a complimentary 30 minutes, whatever is keeping you up. Any questions that people or your listeners may have, you can reach me there: theretiredspy.com, and then there’s a little button on the top where you’ll see my calendar. Just remember, I’m from Ottawa, Canada, so Eastern Time, like you’ve noticed, David, because I think our first time I was gonna get up at four o’clock my time to do.

David: I just thought you were super keen.

JJ: I’ve been up early in the morning. With that — if your listeners do want to connect, just know that it’s Eastern Time, in there. I’m happy, complimentary 30 minutes, whatever. Things that I shared, if they wanted more information, if they need more in regards to that, what is the rapport ladder, happy to send them more information on this. It’s my pleasure.

David: it’s been such a great conversation. Really enjoyed meeting you and loved hearing all of these stories that you’ve been very kind to share with us. But we’ve run out of time, so I’m going to have to call it a day. Enjoy the rest of your day. Have a great weekend. And yeah, thank you so much for your time.

JJ: My pleasure, David, my pleasure, thank you.

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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