Updated: Sep 1, 2020
"If you lead from your most heartfull intentions (and not your ego that needs strokes), the result is a 360° win-win situation and positive impact all around you."
This particular case is about how to impact founders and shareholders and negotiating a difficult buy-out that was a win for all parties involved. It is about intellectual stunt work, heartful leadership, accomplishment and joy. It is about the most difficult sale you can ever make.
Jürgen H. who I sincerely thank for sharing this case with us, is one of my 'philosophy clients'. He does not really need classical coaching. He was already rational and impactful when I met him. He leads teams with such an ease, calm, correctness and joyful leadership. He excellently copes with stress, grows businesses like crops on fertile polder soil and mostly gets done what he aims to. Therefore, as a client, he is mostly interested in the books, the inspiration, the ideas I can share with him from time to time.
It is not about you. It hardly ever is.
But then came the day that he had tried to buy the company he was working for (a world leader in sales training) and in which he already held a minority share. The Founder was of respectable age and had already tried to sell of the company before. It had never worked, so Jürgen prepared a buy-out proposal himself.
Despite all of Jürgen's cautious preparations, an important conversation with the Founder about the buy-out had gone all wrong. The Founder had not even read the note Jürgen had prepared and this was, Jürgen felt, a straightforward insult. He felt that the Founder had played with him, had not respected his hard work, had not been taking his efforts seriously. So they had fallen out badly.
We performed an exercise called 'the 3 positions' to unveil some of the underlying dynamics of what had brought up the behaviour of the founder and also to discover why this situation had made Jürgen more angry than usual.
The conclusions were:
- Jürgen had been surprised by his ego (pride) and therefor had not observed/valued fully that
- the Founder had not wanted to insult him. This was just a sad byproduct of his insecurities, thoughts and feelings. The Founder wanted the deal and needed it, but he more so needed (to believe he cut) the best possible deal before he could to give up 'his baby', the company that he had founded so many year ago. Until then, he would boycot any deal, whether the idea came from Jürgen or anyone else on the planet.
To make this case, a lot more information was necessary about the motivation of the Founder. Observing the Founder as a person, getting to know him better as well as his particular circumstances and anxieties was the way forward.
Waiting is gold
So Jürgen waited and watched. He did not bring up the subject of the buy-out again for many months.
"If the Founder felt he could strike a better deal elsewhere, it was his good right to try and it was my task to support him in the best way I could.'
I was intrigued by this quote. In another exercise we revealed that Jürgen had let go of any feelings of anger and envy about the lost deal. Over and over again he patiently discussed the business numbers with yet another candidate buyer on behalf of the Founder and he reported he had fun doing so.
"I believed that I needed to accept the situation as it was and that it was important to stay in the flow of things and address what was asked. I know my stuff and it is always nice to use this knowledge and give to people what they need at a certain moment in time. I just enjoyed these conversations. I wanted to help and saw my role as that of a good son helping out a father. Despite of all what had happened, I kept a sense of 'moving a stone'. It was good to be in these moments somehow."
But none of the conversations yielded any positive outcome.
"I realised, it was never going to happen this way. All I witnessed confirmed what I had learned after my own fall-out with the Founder. But all is in the timing, isn’t it?"
Every leader needs a role and a mission.
And so Jürgen broadened up the view.
"The way I saw it, everybody was stuck: the Founder most of all, but also the other shareholders (who had started writing of the shares after a long time of nil return), the Founder's children (who did not want to inherit this business, but see it sold instead), me and not in the least the company itself, with all the people in it. We needed fresh investments and a reshuffle of the management team if we wanted renew and grow the company."
"I believe I kept on playing this role of the helper, but this time of all of the stakeholders. I also held on to my mission 'to move a stone', because that is what gives me the joy. The fun and the intellectual excitement of the making of a complex deal, is what makes me tick."
And a stone it was!
"First I identified a smart (and bold) investor who was also interested to invest extra to support the future growth of the company.
At the same time, I started to sort out the stakes for the respective existing shareholders. Some wanted out, if possible with benefit. They had been with the company for decades, putting up with an autocratic founder, but without ever enjoying any substantial return. I declared myself willing to negotiate for a nice return for them and so they became my silent allies in convincing both the Investor and the Founder.
The momentum was growing.
On the other hand, some of the top management wanted in. I took care of that as well. I believed that if we would all be owners, this would be great for the long term vision, the resilience of the team and the sustainability of the company. The company would have fifteen shareholders. The business would be ours and we would work and fight for it together. A nice modern touch!
As to the Founder, I had learned that negotiation the stock purchase agreement and doing the due diligence at the same time did not work. As soon as the criticism from the auditors started to snow down on the original sum, the Founder would back down. I decided that we needed to conclude the SPI first and only start the Due Dilligence after we had an agreement on all nitty gritty contract elements. That way there would be no surprises afterwards.
I did not let the lawyers do all the work, as it is usually done. I kept involved and I was the one talking to the Founder every step of the way. I carefully calibrated that he was feeling all right with what was going on and I talked to the Founder's children as well, to make sure they could put some weight on the good side of the ship on the right moments.
In the end the Founder did of course come with one last crazy demand and we all let him have his final moment of glory."
So there it was:
-the Founder had struck his big deal
-his children were happy with the liquidity of the funds
-the old shareholders had been rewarded
-there was fresh oxygen for the company and
-a broad, well motivated management team of shared owners was formed.
"And I, well let us say I no longer have any doubts about what is coming next. It will be tough, but with this team and this structure, it will be good fun to do!"
Conclusion: three pillars of leadership
Sorting it all, you can see that Jürgen is standing firmly on the 3 pillars of 360° leadership.
1. Heart. Find a mission and be true to it.
The mission for Jürgen seems to be: 'to care' and 'to move a stone'. This means that the joy and excitement is for him in solving big and difficult issues that benefit people. In the past, he never knew very well where he would find expression of this mission, but there it suddenly was!
Also, this deal indirectly gave him the growth company with a modern form of shared ownership that he had been dreaming about for a long time.
2. Mind. Watch and learn, be rational.
From those strong beliefs, and due to letting go of pride, he could observe, look at facts (including personal stories of the people involved), from a broad perspective, be endlessly patient and generate options until a 360° win was forged. And that is something he can be genuinely proud of.
3. Body. Take care of your health and well-being.
Jürgen does not need much sleep, but he takes care of himself by training at least 3 times per week. He keeps his family close and values having breakfast together and taking kids to school. Also when abroad, not a day goes by without facetime contact with all family members. Yoga and meditation are familiar to him and he uses some of the techniques to deal with jetlag. For the rest Jürgen needs routine and organisation to keep up the high performance which gives him so much joy.
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Kristien De Wolf is a certified career coach accepting VDAB cheques.
You are entitled to these cheques if you work in the Flamish region as an employee or independent.
Kristien De Wolf is personal business coach with 20 years of international experience, holding a Master in HRM and certified in NLP and Transpersonal Coaching and Counseling.
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