Leading From The Front Has Its Flaws

On battlefields in times past, opposing regiments faced each other in distinguishing uniforms. Those colours reduced the risk of injury by friendly fire and helped the army generals coordinate tactics from afar. Sometimes, when the fighting got intense and one side’s dominance was apparent, a soldier would change his uniform, switching it inside out to blend in with his opponents. This was the origin of the term “turncoat” which, over time, became synonymous with “traitor “.

There are motivations other than cowardice for changing sides. In the murky world of espionage, operatives mine those factors to find moles. You may never be targeted by the KGB but disloyalty does not need to involve national security, just trade secrets.

Wherever there is competition and conflict the most valuable commodity is information and that is best accessed by a man or woman on the inside. What makes them switch allegiance? What makes someone become a rat? The answer is MICE. That four-letter acronym encapsulates the levers of persuasion: Money, Ideology, Compromise and Ego.

Money - and a wide range of material benefits - gives an instant gratification which distorts the moral compass. Ideology, your portfolio of values, may be at variance to those of your employer. Your loyalty may be to your ideals rather than the source of your income. Perhaps you are compromised because of secrets or mistakes, the exposure of which is used as a subtle but powerful threat. Or, maybe ego is the weakness in your armour. The most vulnerable to acts of treason are those who feel un- or under-appreciated; the disaffected genius who feels his or her talents are unrecognised or under-utilised.

Most spy cases which have come to public attention involve a mix of MICE factors and the proportions vary by individual. But ego is always involved. C.S. Lewis described it in his essay The Inner Ring: “you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world.”

That’s ego. You may not be led into temptation, but it will do its best to find you.

By the early 1800s, the accuracy and range of military rifles meant that battles needed no longer to be fought at close quarters. During the Napoleonic Wars green uniforms replaced brighter, more garish ones. Concealment on the battlefield became essential to survival and has been ever since.

Your reputation depends on sound judgment whether your work is at a desk in Langley or Longford. Your integrity is like a bulletproof vest but there is also protection in mimesis – blending into the background. The bright colours suit you but if you are in the trenches of commercial warfare, or even behind enemy lines, you have more to fear than just bullets. Your life and career require a more mundane look: camouflage.