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Many of you are familiar with the work of Stephen R. Covey and his son Stephen M.R. Covey, whose groundbreaking work on management and leadership includes a principle that I like to think encapsulates how I approach business dealings: win-win or no deal.

Converting the attitude of win-win or no deal into reality takes courage and consideration. I remember having the opportunity to spend some time with Jack Welch and about 50 other CEOs at a two-day event centered around his book “Winning.” Welch presented his concept of “deal heat” and how it can fool us into believing that a deal is good. We get caught up in the desire to make the deal happen no matter what, and, in this moment, creative and innovative justifications can trump reality, facts and truth.

That is why I like to begin new prospective business relationships by establishing the win-win or no deal, where we not only agree on desired outcomes but also commit to not doing the deal unless everyone wins. Clarifying this expectation isn’t always easy, but my experience is that it creates a sense of relief and then immediately focuses everyone on what the definition of success/winning is for each party. With this transparency, hidden agendas are eliminated, the work is productive, and the cultural foundation of the relationship is established.

In his book “The Pursuit of Wow!,” Tom Peters describes a “wow” project as one you will remember and want to replicate. When I reflect on the best projects I have built—the wow projects—and when I talk to the team members, subcontractors and clients who were part of them, they share the same sentiment: When the projects were completed, they were all winners. These were truly win-win deals.

Not every project ends with this result, so an exercise I often complete is to review how a less-than-ideal outcome—a win-lose, or even a lose-lose—could have been a win-win. I also ask myself, what if it should have been no deal?

There’s nothing wrong with choosing to walk away. After all, no one winning is always better than everyone losing.


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