Leadership and "The Con"

This particular musing is set up from a real experience that happened to me in Bogotá, Colombia in 2000. I had been going back and forth to Colombia for some time working and playing with a group of entrepreneurs who were trying to find ways to get Americans to spend more money in Colombia. On my last scheduled visit, my Colombians friends introduced me to Laura. 22 hours later (I did sleep on it!), I asked her to marry me and without a doubt she's been the best companion I've ever had...and some people would say I'm lucky.

After Laura and I decided to get married, we had a special date on Saturday before I was to leave Colombia on Sunday. She took me to Zona Rosa, a part of Bogotá that is filled with upscale clubs, restaurants, shops and fun. We went during the afternoon because neither of us are particularly fond of wild night life, or at least that's what I think.<G>

To make this rather long story shorter for the musing here, this is what happened.

While we were walking around, a man approached us from the opposite side of the street to ask us directions. Of course, Laura tried to accommodate him as I pretty much did the American without a lot of Spanish does, nod your head a lot and smile.

We thought nothing of it and continued to enjoy window shopping, after all, we were in love and when you're in love, well, nothing else really matters does it?

About 10 minutes later, we were approached by a nice looking man in a jacket and tie, who--as I remember now--introduced himself as "security" and flashed a badge and ID, although I admit, I didn't take time to look at it--do we ever? [Remember, this is stage 1 of the con--credibility and trust.]

He was very cordial and indicated that they were part of a drug task force trying to stop the flow of drugs into Zona Rosa. He THEN, pointed at a policeman with a dog (who was real by the way) walking about 30 feet away from us on the other side of the street. [Remember, this is stage 2 of setting up the con, appearing legitimate.]

I mean who would think a criminal would be using the police? Well, I never gave it a second thought, now he had my attention and he was speaking Spanish, and while I understand and speak Spanish, it's not the kind of Spanish that allows you to be calm while talking with security, if you know what I mean.

Laura, as I came to find out later (this took a couple of years) is pretty high tranquility (although you would have never guess the way she handled me in the first few days of our relationship<G>), which means when she's anxious, she wants to get away.

So, she wasn't listening well at all either because I later found out, she was petrified, as an upstanding, law-abiding system (she was a lawyer in Colombia!), and as a young lawyer had not as of yet been schooled in the ways of the con, so she was taken as much as I was.

What happened next was interesting...

As soon as he realized I wasn't doing real well with the Spanish and that she was suspicious, he started talking to me in English. Now, we're getting somewhere, right? What he did (smart guys are always involved in cons!) was immediately negate her by working with me, as she spoke NO English. [Third stage of the con: put the idiot in charge.]

What he told me is that they suspected and had been following the gentleman who asked us for directions a few minutes ago. Remember, he's part of the con.

They knew this gentleman had been suspected of transporting drugs into Zona Rosa and asked me if I had received anything from the man. I told him no, remember, the person is developing this in a calculated manner, so I'm not really thinking at all, I'm reacting and I'm scared. [Remember, in a con, the con people are banking on you relieving your own anxiety by some action, therefore they want you willingly to participate, otherwise it's robbery not a con, right?]

The security officer, who had gained my full faith asked me to come to the station, now I was flat scared. I had visions of spending the rest of my life in a Colombian detention center, or worse not being able to spend the day with my fiancé! After all we were going to Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise in a couple of hours (we both love movies by the way<G>)!

Now, remember con people watch you. They know what you're thinking and feeling by the way you behave, look and act. I know he knew I was fully vested in this thing and I don't know how he knew I was "expedient" (impatient), but the next thing he did was to say this..."you know I don't have to take you to the station (by the way, a person had driven up in an unmarked Mercedes to the curb on the cue and point by our con man, again building credible threat, at least to me.)

Frankly, I had suspicions at that point and I looked at Laura and that's the first time I've seen her terrified.<G> Her legal duties had her working with prison inmates on appeal cases, so she knew what the prison's were like in Colombia (another story--they don't do it like we do, let's say).

He then said, "Mr. Jay," I had showed him my passport, but not let him take it (I'm not totally an idiot.). "We can do this, in order to clear you and to assure us that this man didn't give you any money, if you give me your money, we can check it against a database at our police station here in Zona Rosa." Now he switched back to Spanish and started talking to the man who was approaching us from the car and beckoning us into the car. [Remember, the pressure...what do you do under pressure?]

I reached into my pocket...I didn't carry a wallet, just my passport, and I had stashed money in three pockets, like you should always do when you travel abroad, or to New York. Just kidding NewYorkers, it's very safe now thanks to Juiliani.<G>

And I handed him a wad of Colombian bills, about $200 American, so it was a pretty big wad. He didn't really snatch it from me, he carefully took it and looked at it...paused, and said something in Spanish to the man who was approaching (this all happened in less than 15 seconds, so I'm slowing it down to give you the effect of the amygdala attack I'm having!

He showed the money to the man, the man approaching stopped approaching, returned to the care, got in and drove away at the same time the security officer turned and said that the station was right around the corner.

So, there we are, groom and bride to be, standing on the corner with relatively no one around, watching a man who we thought was a security officer walk across the street and start to disappear around the corner. He has asked us to stay here, while he checked.

Right as he walked around the corner--Laura breathing a sign of relief--he glanced back at us. At that very second I could see in his face that he wasn't coming back. "It's a con, I laughed out loud to Laura." Laura was now crying and pretty freaked out and her new husband to be was roaring out laughing. "They got me," I shouted, literally.

I think this was the point that Laura wondered whether or not, her wine and steak induced (she loves steak like I do, sorry vegetarians!) love reply the night before was actually sane, or not. [I will tell you, I'm sure that Laura has often wondered about that over the past 5+ years--she no longer drinks wine, if that tells you anything.<G>]

Yes, we had been conned and it was done WELL.

When I think of that day, and replay all the events like I've just done, it's amazing to me at some point, I just didn't go up the police officer with the dog across the street or start making a lot of noise, or turn and walk away, like I do now when I'm approached....

But they had my confidence and that's the name of the game.

I know this story has taken too long to tell, so I can't tell you how this applies to leadership, but I will next week, so tune in and I'll show you how Leadership cons you every day. That you are conned out of your resources everyday by friends, well-meaning relatives, even your spouse, your children and your boss.

Until then,

Still time to reach my inner circle….

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