Byron's Babbles

Don’t Be Colonel Klink

I just finished re-reading the classic great book, How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. There is so much great stuff in that book. One part made me pause and think, however. Carnegie talked about how to get people in an affirmative state of mind by asking questions that nudge them in the right direction, he argued this as a way to help others arrive at your conclusions or ideas on their own. This feels very coercive to me. But, I am also all too aware of coercive leaders who if it is not their idea, your idea won’t be considered. So sad, but still happens way too much.

I’ve been thinking about this for the last week or so. Then last night I flipped on Hogan’s Heroes to wind down from the day. You know, the fictional comedy based in a Nazi prisoner of war camp, Stalag 13, that ran from 1965-1971 (my childhood). Colonel Hogan was the ranking P.O.W. officer and the throughline of the show was that a group of prisoners, under Hogan’s leadership, were running special operations for the Allied Forces out of the camp. I love watching the show because there are both good and bad leadership examples to think about in a very funny setting. The Commandant, Colonel Klink, is a bumbling, self absorbed, ambitious, and very vane leader who is so inept that he boasts having a no escape record, but has a major underground (literally) Allied operation being run from the camp by prisoners.

Now, back to the topic of nudging ideas in our direction. In almost every episode Hogan will get Klink to do what he wants by putting Kink’s vanity to work. He’ll begin asking Kink things like, “If you would do_____, then you’ll look very innovative.” or “Wow if you”ll order_______, Hitler would probably give you an award or promote you.” Then Klink will turn around and say, “Hogan, I have an idea…” and repeat back the very idea Hogan planted. The best is when Hogan then says to Klink, “I just don’t know how you do it, sir. You come up with the greatest ideas. You have the mind of a great leader.” When in reality Klink couldn’t think himself out of a paper bag.

“Did House interrupt him and say, “That’s not your idea. That’s mine”? Oh, no. Not House. He was too adroit for that. He didn’t care about credit. He wanted results. So he let Wilson continue to feel that the idea was his. House even did more than that. He gave Wilson public credit for these ideas.”

“Let’s remember that everyone we come in contact with is just as human as Woodrow Wilson. So let’s use Colonel House’s technique.”

Dale Carnegie in How To Win Friends & Influence People

In the book, Carnegie used President Woodrow Wilson and Colonel Edward House as examples. House used the strategy, when Woodrow Wilson was president, of rather than giving Wilson explicit advice, the colonel would very casually mention a proposal of his in conversation or ask questions about it. Then, over time, the idea that Colonel House had planted would take root in Wilson’s mind – so much so that Wilson often thought the plan was entirely his own. Of course, House never corrected him. The most important part of this lesson is that House did not care about credit, he just wanted results.

So, if you have that boss (I won’t call them a leader because they don’t deserve it) that everything has to be their idea, give some nudges. But, if you’re that boss – QUIT being Colonel Klink!