Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

7 Lessons Learned From The Real Donnie Brasco

Friday, January 21st, 2011

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If you read my blog post What Marketers and Detectives Have in Common, you know I have a fascination with law enforcement in general, and the FBI in particular.  Perhaps you read about the 100 New York mobsters arrested yesterday?  Then have I got a story for you…ripped from the headlines!

As a graduate of the FBI Citizens Academy, I was invited to a special presentation by former undercover Special Agent Joe Pistone, aka Donnie Brasco.  In his 6-year undercover operation with the New York mafia, he rose through the ranks and was just 6 months away from being a “made man” when the investigation was brought to an end for fear that his identity would be revealed and his life would end abruptly.   “Operation Donnie Brasco” resulted in more than 200 indictments and 100 convictions…a record that stands to this day.  His experiences led to a book, the a series of books, and a movie.  I couldn’t wait to attend!

Joe was certainly NOT your “average Joe.”  He spent six yearsliving as Donnie Brasco, and yet says he was “just doing his job.”  He spoke so casually about it — like he was just working at the local Wal-Mart or something.

I gained some valuable lessons from his experiences: 

  • Mindset — It’s important to know exactly what you are, and are not, willing to do to accomplish your task.  Joe was willing to risk his life for a citizen.  That was his job.  He was not willing to risk his life for a gangster.  If it came down to his life or the gangster’s, Joe would not be the one to go “bye-bye.”
  • Preparation — You must learn the skills necessary to be successful in your work.  Joe spent four months learning his “legend” of being a jewel thief — studying diamonds and precious gems, as well as alarm systems, safes, lock-picking, and other “tools of the trade.”
  • Committment — You must be committed to your task, and willing to see things through at all costs.  Even if it takes longer than anticipated.  Joe spent the first 7-8 months undercover just hanging out at various restaurants and making his face known to the right people, never saying a word, just to lay the foundation for the operation.
  • Authenticity — You can’t be one person “on the job” and another in your personal life.  You won’t be able to keep them separated under pressure.
  • Remain Calm — Even under the greatest of pressures, like a 5 1/2 hour “sit down” with some high-ranking wiseguys to prove you are who you say you are…or you would leave the room rolled up in the rug!  (And you thought you were under pressure!)
  • Give Back — To say that undercover agents lead a stressful life would be an understatement.  When Joe was undercover, there was no psychological testing for potential undercover agents.  There was no ongoing testing throughout the job.  And there was no counseling for the families of these agents, who also lived a stressful life as a result of the job.  Today, all these checks and balances are in place — something Joe helped organize and promote — so all the agents and their families would be better off.
  • “Fuhgettaboutit”— This term just makes me smile.  While it can have many different meanings, the most important is to remain humble and be a team player.  Remember you aren’t working alone.  You have a support team that makes sure you get the resources you need.  When I commented on Joe’s work, and the sacrifices he and his family made for his job, his response was humbling.  Though he didn’t say it, the meaning was “fuhgettaboutit.”

(Oh, if you’re wondering why there’s no photo of me and Joe Pistone to accompany this post, it’s because there’s still a contract out on his life.  No pictures, please….autographs only…and me without a book to sign.  What was I thinking?)



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