“Hey, I’m Talking To YOU!” — Choice And An Unspoken Communication About Ethics…

A prologue to my story…

About twenty years ago, a client had a difficult choice to make. This story is about leadership and ethics…

It is about how he made that choice and how, in the process, he won the trust of his team—a group of quite prestigious companies from all around the world…

That he had won them over with an unspoken communication fascinated me—and I suspect it might fascinate you too. At least, I hope so!

I was intrigued how the gift of this story extends beyond the leaders of the business world and beyond those who are responsible for creating an ethical culture in their business and professional lives. It extends to every part of our personal lives too…

While you may not ultimately agree with the particular choice my client made in this story, this doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you can sometimes communicate quite effectively with people without yelling this at them:

“Hey, I’m talking to YOU!”

Anyway, let’s get going…

Starting at the beginning…

Once upon a time, many moons ago, when wild animals still roamed freely across the plains—and before smog and tattoos were invented—and before Donald Trump was even just a twinkle in his father’s eye, I represented a client that had developed a quite unusual military vehicle.

He had  designed it specifically for Special Forces use around the world. What I found refreshing was that my client actually seemed to know what it was doing. Sadly, for me, this was quite unusual. While I wouldn’t take this to the bank, I suspected the reason its founder knew what he was doing was because he was a former Israeli Special Forces veteran…

Anyway, one of his vehicle’s great attractions wasn’t just that it was extraordinarily fast, it also had great mobility and maneuverability over all types of terrains…

Another attraction was that it could carry its own weight. Practically, this meant that it could carry a greater payload than any of its competitors. This, in turn, offered another advantage: Fewer helicopters would be required to deliver these vehicles and their payloads to their mission sites. And, as everyone knows, helicopters are really expensive. From any military’s perspective, the fewer helicopters they had to put in harm’s way, the better…

My client knew that there were a number of countries around the world looking for this type of vehicle. One was Singapore.

Clearly, this was a great opportunity. If we could sell the vehicle to Singapore, this might well open the floodgates for sales all around the world to any military with Special Forces needs.

you-create-your-own-opportunities-opportunities-success-quote-taolife

A tender and a team to respond to it …

Singapore needed a vehicle like this, so they put out a detailed tender for bids. My client decided to respond to it by assembling a quite formidable and impressive team…

Part of that team was Australia’s largest defense manufacturer. It would be manufacturing the vehicle. Another was a Singapore company that would be acting as a local liaison to help with local red tape. Another part of the team was an Israeli company owned by former Israeli Special Forces senior officers. They would help sell the virtues of the vehicle to the Singapore Special Forces.

Needless to say, each member of this team was a prestigious and well-respected company in its own right. Everybody on the team understood that, if my client was awarded the contract, this could be the start of a long and quite financially rewarding adventure for everyone. Not only would Singapore order more vehicles, many other countries would surely follow suit.

While everyone knew this wouldn’t be easy, everyone recognized the clear opportunity this presented…

Simplicity_Albert_Einstein_Style

The process…

Responding to the Singapore tender would require us to assemble a mountain of documents regarding every technical and economic aspect of the vehicle and the proposed agreement—and details regarding each team member.

After we had submitted our documentation to Singapore, all of those responding would have to present their vehicles in Singapore for a field test. Only those bidders with vehicles that survived the field test would be invited for contract negotiations in Singapore.

Preparing the bid…

I will never forget how this played out…

Members of the team had arrived in Los Angeles for meetings to be held over the July 4th weekend. By the end of that weekend, our tender documents had to be completed.

Murphy’s Law being alive and well and living over that weekend, the air-conditioning in my office broke down. The meetings were moved to my house. The technical guys gathered in one corner to respond to the technical issues in the tender. The financial guys gathered in another to respond to financial issues. The strategic marketing and sales group gathered in yet another to discuss how we would sell the vehicle’s competitive advantage to the Singapore military.

Finally, when the initial smaller meetings were eventually concluded, the whole team gathered together to go over our responses to the contractual issues.

With respect to the contract, Singapore required us to respond on a prescribed form to EVERY single paragraph of the submitted contract. If we agreed to a provision, we had to acknowledge that. If we objected to a provision, we had to set forth our objection and provide alternative language to replace whatever we objected to. These written responses would then form the basis for any later contractual negotiations.

It was made clear, however, that this was a once-only opportunity for us. We could not later raise objections that we had not addressed now.

the devil

The issue we had to address…

One part of the proposed contact was quite clear:

We had to provide an unqualified warranty and representation that EVERY single part of our vehicle was made of new components and that the vehicle contained no second-hand used components. A note to this provision provided specifically that, if we could not provide this unqualified warranty and representation, this would DISQUALIFY us from being awarded the contract.

Facing the fifteen of us squashed into my living room was this stark reality and dilemma—

One small and quite insignificant part of our vehicle was second-hand. A well-known auto manufacturer had manufactured it and we had acquired enough of these parts in the second-hand market to manufacture many more vehicles than the contract called for.

Financially, it would have added significantly to the vehicle’s cost for us to have to tool this part ourselves. After my client and our Australian manufacturer had tested the parts extensively and had determined that they had no flaws and were quite reliable, a decision was made simply to use these parts.

Now the question became this:

Even though it was HIGHLY unlikely that the Singapore military would EVER have discovered that this particular part was second-hand, should we make the disclosure?

As you might imagine, the immediate response from my client’s partners was more than a little agitated. All had invested a HUGE amount of time and significant resources to get the project to where we now found it. Without exception, ALL were suggesting strongly that we could NOT make the disclosure, since this would disqualify us from winning the contract.

Everybody seemed to be betting on the fact that nobody on the Singapore side would ever find out.

life is a choice

The choice my client made…

No more than 15 minutes into this “discussion,” my client interrupted them. This is my recollection of what he said:

“Guys, even though its my butt’s that’s on the line here, we ARE going to make the disclosure—and I’m going to tell you why.”

don't judge me

You could have cut the tension in the room with a knife…

“Look, correct me if I’m wrong, but does ANYONE here have even the SLIGHTEST doubt that our vehicle will outperform all of the competition? We know that it will…

By every measure, our vehicle is VASTLY superior to all the other vehicles that we’re competing with. In fact, based on our research and on the intelligence we’ve gathered, we’re all convinced our vehicle will be the ONLY one left standing at the end of the trial. Does ANYONE disagree with me on this?”

Nobody did… Indeed, this is why every team member had travelled across the world for these meetings. Only when everyone nodded in agreement, did he continue:

“Look, understand this: I KNOW how Special Forces think. I’ve been there! What I can tell you with ABSOLUTE certainty is that, after the Singapore Special Forces have seen our vehicle perform in the trial, they’ll want it SO BADLY that they’ll hardly be able to wait for us to deliver them! No question about this. And no way are they going to let a LEGAL TECHNICALITY get in the way of a vehicle they REALLY want. No way. Ain’t gonna happen.”

And this is how he ended his comments:

“And, guys, one other point:  By us making the disclosure, the Singapore government will know that we’re HONEST and can be TRUSTED. And that, guys, might be worth MILLIONS to us in future sales. This is an opportunity I don’t wanna lose. I want this to be statement about us and our integrity. Are you with me?”

Everyone was—enthusiastically!

And everyone lived happily ever after…

End of story—for now!

So, here’s the gift…

In making his choice and in addressing his team, even though my client was ostensibly making a statement about the specifics of current deal, he was actually doing much more…

He was talking indirectly to his own team about their future relationship. This was an unspoken communication about ethics—and how he expected them to treat him in their future business dealings…

So, while he was telling them that he wanted the Singapore government to know it could trust their team, he was also telling each team member that each could trust him too… This is what he could have said, but didn’t:

“Hey guys, I’m talking to YOU—you can trust me!”

He was making an astonishingly clear statement about his ethics and the ethics he expected of his team—without saying the words. It was an unspoken communication about ethics…

And, as important to him was a realization that, if he agreed NOT to make the disclosure, all of his partners would wonder if they could EVER really trust him in the future…

That’s the gift of this blog…

Postscript…

If you wanna know how this story ends—and if you wanna read about the second lesson that the negotiating session in Singapore revealed, you’re gonna have to wait for my next blog…  🙂

good thing come...

Finally, if you like the style of our blogs and enjoy our story-telling approach to us offering gifts, and if you’d like to offer us your own story or stories, we’d love for you to join our team of contributors…

Just let us know…

 

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