HARVEY MACKAY: Street smarts for the boardroom

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I’m back with another installment of street smarts, those skills that go beyond what is taught in school — the lessons we learn by experience and practice. Never underestimate the value and importance of “extracurricular” education.

First idea: Don’t be afraid to make a decision. Be afraid NOT to make a decision. Good judgment is a critically important skill for any person to have, but especially for those in leadership positions. Good judgment is such an important attribute that it is often listed first by employers as a required quality of job applicants.

In business, the success or failure of the organization hinges on judgments made at all levels. Good judgment is the ability to make the best decision possible based on the information you have, without being swayed by others or predetermined ideas.

What kind of a decision-maker are you? Take a few minutes to contemplate the question, because once you become aware of how you make (or don’t make) decisions, you will be more apt to make wiser choices in the future.

Next idea: Never make a decision until you have to. Always bargain for more time to postpone doom. Things can change over time.

For example, there once was a king who was trying to find someone who could teach his horse to fly. As the king was conducting court one day, two guards dragged in a beggar who had just stolen a loaf of bread.

The king said, “Take him away and chop his head off!” As he was being dragged away, the beggar said, “But my king, I can teach your horse to fly. Just give me two years.”

“Granted,” the king said.

As the beggar is being carted out, a guard quizzically asks him, “Why did you promise that?”

“Look … In two years, I may be dead. The king may be dead. Or who knows, maybe I can teach the horse to fly!”

Next idea: Practice the Rule of 10,000. This rule helps determine whether something can’t be done or whether someone doesn’t care enough to get it done.

The Rule of 10,000 says, “If I give you an extra $10,000 to get to work by 8 a.m. for six months straight, can you do it?” Watch how fast the obstacles disappear, contingencies are set up, departure time from home is earlier and so on.

You don’t necessarily give people $10,000, but it’s a good way to see if something is possible.

Next idea: Always put the pressure on yourself and tell everyone what your goals are. I do this with all kinds of projects. It’s great motivation.

Next idea: You can take any amount of pain, as long as you know it will end. For example, I was running the Twin Cities Marathon several years back when a woman stopped me with two miles to go and said she wasn’t sure she could finish. She said, “Mr. Mackay, motivate me!” I gave her the above thought on pain as we ran side-by-side, and we both made it.

Next idea: It’s not the people you fire who make your life miserable … it’s the people you don’t fire who make your life miserable. And whenever I say that, I get more amens than a Billy Graham sermon.

Next idea: Maximize your education dollars. When your company sends its people to conferences, make sure you get maximum value. At our company, we insist that our people come back from conferences and teach the rest of the staff what they learned. This way we get a terrific return on our investment.

Next idea: Never give an ultimatum unless you mean it. A close friend shared this story of a high stakes negotiation. He was living in Minnesota and wanted desperately to buy one of his competitors in Los Angeles. He had information that whatever his bid was, the owners had a local businessman who would bid for the business as a wedge to get the price up.

There was a summit conference call with the six owners plus my friend to negotiate and finalize a price. Then came the knockout blow. My friend bid 15 percent to 20 percent more for the company than his previous proposal, but his new offer was on the table during the call only. The buyers could either accept it or not. The offer was so good, the owners decided to take it. They weren’t going to chance it on their friend matching it.

Mackay’s Moral: Use your street smarts to outsmart your competition.

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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