There’s something that sets CIA agents apart from the rest of us. They are tough, smart, and can improvise during difficult situations. In some ways, they are a lot like entrepreneurs.
This means that if you want to become an entrepreneur, it might be useful to start thinking like a CIA agent. Here are some things you can learn from the CIA and their agents.
Entrepreneur Lessons From The CIA
#1 – Be realistic about what the job requires
When people think about the CIA, what comes to mind is what they see on TV: excitement, travel, and glamor. But if that were true, everyone would want to be a CIA agent. The truth is that becoming a CIA agent takes years of hard work, dedication, and focus.
In the same way, it’s easy to think that entrepreneurship is all about having “The Perfect Idea” and raking in millions as a result. But, successful entrepreneurship requires a lot of diligence and work. Watch or read biographies of successful entrepreneurs and see for yourself that sacrifices were made in order for them to reach that level of success.
#2 – People skills are just as important as technical skills
CIA agents are great at reading people. They can sense their strengths, weaknesses, and quickly judge if they’ll be an asset or a threat. As an entrepreneur, you’ll need the same skills during hiring, negotiations, and day to day operations.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest person in the room – without people skills, you will never gain the trust and respect of those around you.
#3 – Be reliable
Unlike what the Hollywood movies would have you believe, good agents are reliable. They don’t miss appointments, forget equipment, or give in to distractions. Doing these things could lead to death. Or worse, war.
While entrepreneurship may not nearly be as dramatic, you still need to be reliable – especially when dealing with customers. This means meeting or exceeding their expectations so that they can trust you when the next transaction comes around.
#4 – Have integrity
Both businessmen and CIA agents need to make the hard decisions that most don’t really want to make. Are you going to compromise what’s best for the long term just to get some short term gains? Will you work with employees who are affordable or with employees whom you know will get the job done?
Just as a CIA agent is loyal to his or her country, so should you be loyal to your business’ goals and those whom you conduct business with.
#5 – Surround yourself with satisfied and competent people
Nothing ruins a good mission like someone who’s negative, unhappy, or downright incompetent. This is true whether it’s an intelligence mission or a business mission.
When the people around you are smart, confident, and happy about their choices, their enthusiasm is infectious and will only feed your company’s energy.
#6 – Learn other languages
The best CIA agents can switch from English to French to Farsi in a few seconds. This helps them understand background conversation and blend in when they are in a foreign country.
As an entrepreneur, you’re going to need to learn how to do this if you want your business to operate worldwide. In fact, odds are you won’t have a choice but to work with contractors, customers, and employees from all over the globe – that’s what it’s like to do business today. And, if you’re going to do it successfully, you need to learn how to communicate well with the various people you’ll be in business with in your own country and in the international markets.
#7 – Foster connections in your community
The CIA and other intelligence agencies are one big community. This helps them share information and consult each others’ expertise whenever needed.
Entrepreneurs have to do the same. For example, you might be a great leader, but what if you don’t have the accounting or legal skills to run a business? Or, you might be great at marketing, but what if you aren’t a good designer? You need to find smart, talented people to compensate for the skills and know-how that you lack. To do that, you’ll need to mingle with other entrepreneurs, seek referrals, and get tips on where to find the best people to work with.
#8 – Be financially secure and responsible
Preserving your integrity isn’t all about willpower, it’s also about preventing any issues that may make you weak. A financially troubled CIA agent is a liability. It’s easy for malicious organizations to trap, blackmail, or lure a good agent who has money problems.
The same goes for entrepreneurs. If you’re strapped for funds, you might get tempted to take from the till or you might make the wrong calls just to keep your cash flow going.
#9 – Keep your track record clean
The CIA usually performs thorough background checks on people who want to become agents. They look for signs of a criminal history, drug charges, and other negative activities. This is because the CIA needs to be 100% sure that their agents are accountable, honest, and loyal.
It pays for Entrepreneurs to be vigilant in this area. Business is such a public activity that people are going to unearth negative things about you. The more successful your business is, the more likely this is to happen. To protect yourself and your business, you need a clean record or the cleanest it can be.
#10 – Never stop learning
If a CIA agent stopped keeping up with the latest international intelligence gossip, fighting methods, and equipment, he or she could die in the field.
The same is true for entrepreneurs who get complacent and think that once their business takes off, they no longer have to learn anything new. But with technology constantly changing and with a newer batch of entrepreneurs launching startups every year, you’ll get left behind if you don’t put in the effort to keep up with trends.
#11 – Be physically fit and healthy
When you’re running errands, working day and night, and obsessing about every detail of your business, it’s easy to forget about your physical fitness. You might think that you no longer have the time or energy to take care of your health. The truth is that your physical health is tied to your mental and emotional health – which you need to run your business.
Just as an agent has to keep fit whether there’s a mission or not, you also need to keep working out. This ensures that when there’s a fight, you’re ready in a heartbeat.