“True leaders are win-win thinkers.” It’s easy to say. No one disagrees. But who really believes it?
Deep down, we know that business is competition, and sometimes cutthroat competition at that. It’s all about winning. Whenever a customer makes a choice, somebody wins and somebody loses. In any transaction, it’s nice if the customer "wins" too, but the business has to win first.
Despite this, "win-win" is the only realistic way to think if you’re going to be a leader. Virtually everything you do and every relationship you have depends on helping someone else succeed.
The basic principle here is respect for others and for yourself. No arrangement in the business world – or in life – can succeed unless all parties are winning, especially in the long term.
Building a start-up bank
The story of Dave Fishwick clearly demonstrates the truth of that basic principle. In 2008, a serious global banking crisis hit, and suddenly it was almost impossible to get credit. Dave Fishwick, a prosperous dealer in minibuses, saw his business dry up overnight. Dave had spent his life building up his business in the town of Burnley in the north of England.
“I had a lot of customers who bought minibuses on finance and who were decent, reliable, hardworking people that always paid back anything they owed. Suddenly, the credit crunch hit, and these people I’d known for years couldn’t get a penny from the banks,” says Dave.
Burnley, already struggling with 13% unemployment, was about to hit the wall. “Everywhere I looked, businesses were going bust and shops were sitting empty with big 'to-let' signs over the door. Every time a business goes bust, other businesses lose their customers, which pushes them even closer to the edge. The problem was that there was no money to get things moving and the banks certainly weren't doing anything to help.”
It was "lose-lose" everywhere you looked. But Dave Fishwick, a proactive, visionary leader, had a win-win mentality, and he decided to apply to open his own bank for the people of Burnley. “Why not,” thought Dave.
The state told him why not: under the law, he needed a vast set-aside of millions of pounds before he could get a bank charter. Like any good proactive leader, he refused to take no for an answer and found a loophole: he could have his bank if he didn’t call it a bank. So he adopted the slogan “Bank on Dave!” and set up shop.
The importance of a win-win philosophy
Dave’s entire philosophy is win-win: he pays his depositors much higher interest than they could get from a bank, which draws enthusiastic customers. He gets to know every borrower personally and guarantees every loan he makes. So far his trust has paid off – only 2% of the loans he’s made are in arrears (with traditional banks it’s around 9% or 10%).
The Turners, a couple struggling to start a catering business, couldn’t get a loan from any bank. They went to Dave and he lent them the £8,500 they needed, but he also did much more than that. He advised them on their marketing and advertising, introduced them to local businesses, and helped them set up a sandwich stand at a big construction site. The result: they attracted a lot of customers. “We couldn’t have done it without the loan and Dave’s advice. He opened our eyes to what can be done.” And, of course, they are paying Dave’s Bank back in full and on time.
What happens when everyone wins?
In the world of Dave Fishwick, everybody wins – his depositors, his borrowers, and the local economy. He wins too: “If nobody could buy a new minibus, that would mean no more David Fishwick Minibuses.” He is helping turn a "lose-lose" situation into a "win-win" success story.
Dave understands the basic leadership principle that you don’t succeed unless others succeed too, and therefore win-win is the only rational way for a leader to think. It’s true in the north of England, and it’s true everywhere.