You must keep secrets but skillfully persuade others to tell you theirs. You have to love your country but willingly leave it behind for dangerous operations around the world. You need to live a double life but be trustworthy enough to carry out the nation’s most sensitive tasks. Michele Rigby Assad was one of those people. Working undercover for the CIA, she served in treacherous areas throughout the Middle East—a woman leading some of the most highly skilled operatives on the planet. The threats were real. The missions were perilous. And deep inside, Michele wondered: Could she really do this job or had she misunderstood her life’s calling? In her book Breaking Cover, Michele has at last been cleared to drop cover and tell her story of incredible struggle, of unexpected challenges and thwarted missions, and most significantly, of powerfully realizing what really matters in the face of her greatest fears.
The Life Altering Power of Grit
Michele uses stories from her CIA experience to illustrate the power of grit, the power of perseverance and determination to learn and grow—no matter what. Instead of focusing on the challenges and negativity presented to her, Michele demonstrates how focusing on mastering a skill, learning new material, and pushing to grow is what transformed her life and career.
- Your mindset is the most important thing.
- Grit trumps natural talent.
- What worked before may not work when the storms of life sweep in. Stay flexible to respond to the challenge.
- That which is unexpected and unwelcome could turn out to be your biggest blessing.
Lessons from the CIA — How to Pivot in Times of Crisis
One thing you learn planning and carrying out operations in war zones is that no matter how hard you try, you can’t prepare for every contingency. You have to get good at pivoting in the moment and making decisions on the fly. Such is the new world thrust on us in 2020. Strong leadership understands that now is not the time to maintain continuity of operations—it is time to rethink everything.
- Learn how to harness fear to cultivate optimism and resiliency.
- Understand how to promote an environment in which your team members’ unique experiences, outlook, and creativity can be harnessed to solve operational challenges.
- Develop new strategies for tapping into your diverse workforce to navigate changing realities and requirements. (You will be surprised how many amazing ideas come from staff that, up until now, hasn’t had the opportunity or encouragement to share fresh ideas that can breathe new life into operations.)
Michele became one of the world’s leading experts on resilience as a result of a challenging ten-year career in the CIA that took her to countless war zones. What she originally thought were repeated “slights” by management which sent her to one dangerous place after the other, she now counts those tours as the secret to her success. Michele emerged from those experiences with a level of counterterrorism and counterintelligence expertise that was off the charts. It turns out that the environments that were the scariest and most intellectually challenging were the places Michele developed a deep knowledge of her craft and operational know-how that could not have been forged anywhere else. Michele is on a mission to encourage others to be willing to do “the hard things.”
Unconscious Bias: How to Knock Down the Walls
I’m used to assumptions. I’ve dealt with them my entire life. It is hard for people to merge the two seemingly different versions of me: an outgoing and kind person who cares very much about others-with the counterterrorism and Middle East expert. Most human beings are conditioned to associate a leader with someone who wields power in a more forceful manner. Those with sunny dispositions are often relegated to the second tier or the back row. This cognitive dissonance is a product of an Unconscious bias that sets our expectations of people’s strengths, weaknesses, personality and interests. Our assumptions are based on a lifetime’s worth of input, so this happens without our cognizance. We are not aware that this process is occurring.
In the workplace, subconscious bias affects internal processes such as hiring, promotions, leadership development, training decisions, and project management. In terms of operations, subconscious bias affects our marketing and sales strategies, product design, prioritization of projects, and so much more.
Learn the first steps to knocking down the walls to unconscious bias and creating a culture of strong leaders:
- Acknowledge that we can do a better job
- Dig deeper and get to know others better
- Ask more questions
- Determine whether unconscious bias has affected the way you’ve done business and identify one way to start rectifying that
How Leveraging War-Zone Tactics in the Workplace Can Help Overcome Stereotypes
Michele uses her experience as a female in the male-dominated intelligence sector to show how your unique personality and perspective are key to being a stand-out in the workplace. Despite being told that she could not carry out successful counterterrorism operations because she would never be accepted as a female by the terrorist sources she would have to work with, Michele turned this assumption on its head. She explains how she triumphed by turning her perceived disadvantages to her advantage in the debriefing room, acquiring intelligence others could not.
How to "Break Cover" and Break Through the Financial Chaos
Going Undercover: Finding Your Purpose in a Dangerous World
What Dealing With Terrorists Taught Me About Business
My Advantage as a Woman in The CIA
“Michele Assad’s stories of life in the CIA are riveting, and she tells them in a way that captures the astounding nature of her experiences in the Middle East. She challenged us to pursue a fresh perspective on the interaction between Christianity and Islam and the role of America in the world.”
“Michele is a dynamic and engaging speaker who uses her experiences in the CIA to connect with her audience in a way that is very relatable. She is a storyteller and we all wanted to hear more!”
“Our organization has monthly speakers and we’ve seen and heard from our fair share of amazing people. Michele was different, however. She was unique to her story but her story was really all of our stories. We were able to relate to how we underestimate our own capabilities. Whether you are a CIA Intelligence Officer or a homemaker, she shares how the power we all have to create our own destinies has always been within us. Wonderful presentation!”