I just finished reading Bo’s Lasting Lessons by Bo Schembechler and John U. Bacon.
It is American college football’s Coach Bo Schembechler’s last effort before his passing to share his thoughts, traits, and philosophy of leadership. It fell on me that Coach Schembechler and I came from the same thread. Both of us are dedicated students of College Football Hall of Fame’s Coach Woody Hayes of Ohio State University. As I read through the book, it felt as if I were back in class or driving to a recruit’s house with Coach Hayes.
I would like you to know that one of the most important teachings of Coach Hayes was taken directly from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Compensation.” Simply, if you would be great, you must know the real problem and solve it. Well, that is easily said but can be very hard to do.
You’ve probably heard it said, “They don’t know what they don’t know.” That is a statement that can be very difficult to overcome. Yet, all too often that is exactly what leadership is up against.
Let me see if I can paint a picture for you. I am a negotiation coach. Have been for the last 27 years. Fifteen of those years I spent under the radar
until my first book came out. Now as you read this, if you are wondering what a negotiation coach is, you just admitted you don’t know. That’s okay, not many do. But, if you didn’t know there was such a thing, how could you know what you don’t know?
Worse, if there were a system of negotiation that took advantage of everything you learned about compromise in school or from seminars, or you were trained in conflict resolution with the middle ground as the solution, you would have no idea of not only what you didn’t know, but you would think that what you knew was all there was. Therefore, you would never even consider there might be a better way.
Please allow me to make a bold statement. There is one area of business so often missed, dismissed, taken for granted, or completely overlooked by leadership, it can either be the downfall or the bridge to greatness.
Of course, your market share and growth of market share are important and another cornerstone to success. However, those are apparent and focused upon every day. Your capitalization is also a critical cornerstone to success, but it’s also a part of your business day. Human capital is a critical cornerstone to success because we all know you win with great people.
Great leaders know it is an organization’s ability to make strong, effective, lasting agreements that deliver exactly what they want that defines their levels of achievement. The more effective the leadership is in driving the organization to make those agreements that deliver exactly what the organization wants defines it greatness. The ability of an organization to time and again negotiate what it wants and get it defines the levels of success achieved.
In coaching billions of dollars in negotiations over the last 20 years, I have been privileged to work closely with senior leaders of all types of organizations. All the great ones had one thing in common: They knew what drove the organization. The organization that does a great job of negotiating gets what it wants. It can’t help but grow and prosper.
In each case, leadership that produced great success had a passion for excellence in negotiations. They were students of the negotiation event. They studied human behavior and decision making in negotiations. They challenged themselves and their teams to push for excellence in negotiations. They challenged the conventional wisdom that compromise is required. It is not. They were always open to new ideas and new concepts. They worked hard at developing the skills within their teams to achieve high levels of competence. That competence delivered what the organization wanted time and time again.
Okay, Camp, but if you don’t know what you don’t know, how do you get there? Well, you might read an article like this that forces you to think. You might hear a story in a board meeting that opens your eyes. You might buy a book in an airport that shakes you. The key is, it happens. Somewhere along the road when you are looking to achieve great things, something is seen that forces a review of your thoughts on negotiation.
Let’s look at the road most traveled. If you think about it, most senior business leaders today graduated from a fine business school: Harvard, Kellogg, Duke, Stanford, and others. Each of these top schools usually offers a course in negotiation. Now, here is the major discovery by my very best senior leaders. In every case, as they looked back upon graduate school, they realized they weren’t learning how to get exactly what they wanted. Rather, these classes teach how to give as little as possible and then to be content and settle for what they got.
When they looked back, they realized that what they really learned was how to compromise and be happy with less. They didn’t learn negotiation skills. They learned and practiced skills of compromise. You know, give and take, to practice collective bargaining, to try to guess what to give up to get the deal. They learned how to be proud of their assumptions and the compromises that came from those assumptions. It bothered them then, but they weren’t sure why. Today, when they put their compromising skills into action, they realize they were wrongly taught.
These business leaders learned that “Win-Win” was the winning way to negotiations. Yet, as they continue to apply this backwards thinking to their everyday business negotiations, they realize that rather than “winning,” they are typically “losing.” Sadly many are still locked in this mindset and haven’t broken out.
True competitive advantage comes from negotiation excellence that delivers exactly what they want. Compromise-based negotiation cannot get you there. It not only prevents your organization from growing, but it also holds you back from greatness.
Jim Camp is the author of the global bestseller The Power of NO
and CEO and creator of Negotiator-Pro, the world’s only complete negotiation training, management, and collaborative platform.