On Respect and Negotiation

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I sometimes do forget to breathe because I’m impatient. Or nervous. Or angry.

Well as an aspiring leader, here’s a reminder for myself: people want to like their leaders. And they want to back winners. Being bubbly and enthusiastic and smart and recovering quickly from setbacks is all well and good.
What is not? To be erratic, emotional, unfairly criticise, be a doormat, boring, or just mean.

Excellent article from Harvard Business Review touches on exactly this. You can be in a position of power or authority, sure. And people will obey your commands, if they have to. But that doesn’t mean that they want to, or even that they’re not going and bitching behind your back.

So much going on I forget if I posted about this lately, but the statistics about what a small percentage of employees are actively engaged vs disengaged vs (the worst), actively causing dissent, is a bit scary. As I run a company my dream is when my team cares as much and works as hard as I do. Some of them do, or do on occasion, and I love them for it.

You can’t buy that motivation. My leadership is a work in progress. I’m not entirely comfortable as a leader but I’m not exactly uncomfortable either, and I would rather be a leader than be led by someone I don’t respect or disagree with. Well, I like to think that I have a lot of the traits that article talked about. I am decisive once I have enough information to suit me. I do empathise. I make fun of myself all the time.

My jaw may or may not have hit the ground in this location this week

I do have a problem with proper vulnerability but then again you don’t want to let too much out. More good stuff from HBR! Unless I’m engaging in snarkiness with people I trust, or whom I am testing (because let’s face it, it’s hard not to vent when you’re frustrated or annoyed), either I keep what I am really feeling very close to my chest and do not reveal it, or, more usually, I drop not-so-subtle hints.

Some people are oblivious of course. And projection is interesting – I was once writing obliquely about some situation at work and someone thought I was writing about her, and I found out about this through yet another person. I always find that hilarious; a passive aggressive dig at a perceived passive aggressive move. But then again, sometimes it is.

But it’s funny: I have no real need to be passive aggressive. I can’t with my staff, or my customers, or my partners, or really much of anyone. There is no time for that. If you’re doing something I don’t like, I need to speak up.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, respect: I had the pleasure this last week of spending more time with a man for whom I am developing a very deep respect. It’s a strange friendship. But it got me thinking …. why do I respect him?

Well, he’s smart. There’s that.

He’s discerning. He’s made comments about my personality that he’s gleaned through my choice of sport, and corrected my own comments about myself.

He’s complex. I ask the same question multiple times and get multiple answers. He’s not being inconsistent; he’s just giving me pieces of the answer. It’s maddeningly fun; probably for both of us.

He’s strategic. On the game of chess we call business and life, he’s far enough ahead of me that it’s like watching magic. If it’s an exponential learning growth curve then he’s maybe 2-4 years ahead of me.

He’s funny (at least I find him so!).

He will throw you right off your balance. One minute you’re talking about oaked vs unoaked Chardonnay and the next he’s asked for the balance in your bank account (not a real example but you get the idea).

I don’t think there’s a word for what I’m looking for: it’s what you’d get if you took all the negative connotations away from arrogant and egotistical. I try to be a bit OTT [not the software OTT], and I like rocking the boat, or shaking trees. But if I like to shake trees this dude comes at them with a chainsaw, and smiles while doing it. Not ruthless. Not quite. Well, maybe. It’s me that’s not quite ruthless. Unless you’ve made me mad; then I unleash all the fires of hell to the degree that I can within the bounds of the law and human decency and respect. So I could be worse.

But also: he’s vulnerable. Albeit in very subtle ways.

So …. what did you say your CVV2 code was?

I won’t be able to do this forever. But for now, I can use my age and relative newness to the executive game to feign naiveté. This past weekend, worked like a charm when I needed it to. Because sometimes, you can’t just come right out and say what you think, even if you want to.

Perception is a funny thing. Lance did have a great quote a few months back: when you have the highest EQ in the room, you can control the conversation. I’m not claiming that I have the highest EQ in every room. What I am saying is that very little that I communicate, unless I’m either drinking, properly mad, or indignant, is without intent. Sometimes I get it wrong. More often I’m misread; which is to be expected as communication is a work in progress.

Is the glass half empty or half full? What is the truth? Your side, my side, what a rational observer would see, or something in the fourth dimension? Truth! What a hilarious concept.

Kind of like this: the microorganisms in the human body outnumber cells with human DNA by 10 to 1. True story. So … are we human? What is it to be a human, then, anyway?

I was once called out by my boss at the time for not respecting him. He was right. I think I’ve mentioned this before. But he also misunderstood the difference between respecting a position, respecting a person, and respecting a person’s leadership/actions/intelligence. Respect is earned. I cannot emphasise that strongly enough. This is the difference between leaders and managers.

Or, the difference between the self-aware and the non-self-aware. I can tell when someone has a deep respect for me, and when they don’t. Normally I care, some times more than other times. I care a heck of a lot more how Rudolph feels about me than just about any other human on the planet. Why? Because I need him to trust and respect me or else all hell could break loose. Also, because I respect the hell out of him, while all the time appreciating his weaknesses, and supporting him in those areas. No one is perfect, most especially not me. Which is why it’s also great when my team supports my weaknesses for me.

This was a week of some interesting negotiations. One was with an existing partner that, in a way, was on the back foot and as a result was blustering about like a wounded tiger. Why do wounded animals react so viciously? Whenever you get a response disproportionate to the stimulus, you know something is going on.

The other was with a new partner. Thank heavens for my lessons on negotiation theory from Babson; you sometimes need to look at things creatively. You also need to understand where your leverage lies, or if you even have any.

The back half of the work week was spent dealing with the ramifications of these various discussions, some quite hectic internal database & systems cleanup, and yet another fascinating sales meeting. All I have to say is never say never. It is now twice in as many weeks that paths I made fun of my competitors for going down, I may now be. The difference is, you can do the same thing but in VERY different ways. Especially in a commodity space.

Fun times at a few wine farms on Saturday afternoon, dinner at Terroir (complete with an orange marshmallow!), Sunday Sandbar stop followed by a quick visit to the Waterfront, and then to a Mexican-themed house party where I saw some old friends and met some very interesting new friends. Very interesting indeed. That is one thing about Cape Town; I’ll give it that much. That and the sunsets, and the view. This city is spectacular. Properly spectacular.

Yep. We love CT.

I’m not in Kansas any more. And the sad thing is, no matter how much you may want to, you can never go back from whence you came.

  • “In the real world, no one gives you credit for pretending to try.” – Mom
  • “It’s not that you’re pulling with your arms, it’s that you’re exploding too early.” – Roland
  • “The interesting thing is that it’s irrelevant.” – Roland
  • “Oh, you know. Rudolph made fun of Adam. Adam made fun of Rudolph. I almost called Stefan Charles, and Adam made fun of Charles because Man United lost.” – Ellie (just another morning meeting)
  • “But aren’t they a nothing company?” – Jeff
  • “I’m just making sure that Rob knows he can hit them if they don’t reply.” – Rudolph
  • “I need a drink. But it’s bed time.” “Drink it in bed.” – Ellie & Cedric
  • “Save your brain for profitable things.” – Cedric
  • “No more coffee for you!” – Rudolph
  • “Wait! I have an Ethernet cable!” – Ellie
  • “If he told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?” “I don’t know. Maybe, hey.” “Well, he probably wouldn’t tell you to do that without a good reason.” – Ellie & someone else who trusts too much
  • “We just met earlier tonight.” – Blake
  • “Relax. Tense muscles are slow muscles.” – JJ
  • “Wiseass.” “Hey. I’ve got needles in my shoulder. What do you want me to say?” – Mark & Ellie
  • “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story?” – Mark
  • “I’m not sure you could say he participates, but he attends the meetings.” – Blake
  • “That’s ok. I don’t judge on a first date.” “Second date.” – Ellie & Blake (inside joke)
  • “It’s a global ecosystem value destruction.” – Cedric
  • “He said a lot of things, without really saying anything.” – Adam
  • “When’s the event? Tell me it’s not tomorrow.” “It’s tomorrow.” – Ellie & Victor
  • “A wireless gold mine? Where’s the gold mine?” – Mr Snarky
  • “I don’t have a gift. I have a contract.” – Mr A Bit Less Snarky
  • “The most powerful sales tool is the simple truth.” – Craig
  • “Contrary to popular belief – wait. No. Contrary to how I may sometimes act, I am not stupid.” – Ellie
  • “When you said cabling would be a problem, you weren’t kidding.” – Ellie
  • “You are like a Vietnam war vet. You will never be able to reintegrate!” – Allister
  • “We don’t plan. We do.” – Mr Snarky again
  • “But they can’t understand it. Because it’s changing all the time.” – someone who would know
  • “You seemed like you were serious.” – same guy, in the understatement of the year
  • “I think he’s pretty impressed with me already.” – Mr Confident
  • “Do you know who Tom Brady is?” “Yesss???” – Ellie & Lungiswe

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