Do You Trust Your Colleagues Enough to Say This?

Written by Dave Bailey

Filed under psychology sales

Gun in hand against colourful background

Imagine you’re CEO of a small company. Your sales director has a variable bonus linked to new sales. During the year, the business strategy changes to deal with unforeseen circumstances. The sales director will now have to refocus on retaining existing customers, rather than acquiring new ones.

At year end, it’s time for their annual review. Under the original agreement, their bonus should be zero. You want to keep them motivated, but you also need to look after your business. It’s your call — so what should you do?

Putting the gun in your opponent’s hands

You might take inspiration from Bruce Dunlevie, GP of Benchmark Capital. As legend has it, when he’s negotiating equity valuation with the founders of potential investments, he throws this line at them:

'You tell me what’s fair, and I’ll do it.’

Because he’s holding the money, Bruce has significant power in this negotiation — but with that one line he hands over power to the entrepreneur. He gives them the gun.

It turns out that when you ask this question from a well-respected and powerful position, the other party will often go out of their way to offer something fair. Some may go so far as to offer something slightly unfair to themselves. And if they ask for a little more than market, Bruce goes along with it — after all, he only works with the best. It’s a real demonstration of trust.

However, if the entrepreneur asks for something outrageous and ‘fires that gun’ at Bruce, he won’t work with them at all. That’s Bruce’s price for trusting them with the gun in the first place.

As CEO, you have positional power over your team. In other words, you have the final say. But if you want to create leaders in your team, you sometimes have to share your power with them.

If you give your leaders ownership, they’ll usually behave like owners. And if they don’t — well, it’s better you know sooner rather than later.


Originally published Feb 24, 2021, last updated Apr 8, 2024

Learn a new skill every week

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter and learn new skills and mental frameworks that makeĀ startup life easier.

Unsubscribe any time.

Popular articles

How to Drive a Culture of Ownership

Do you wish your team took more ownership? Here’s how to trust them to get the job done without you...

How to Ask Your Team The Right Questions

To improve your ability to ask great questions, it helps to understand the types of questions you can ask...

A Guide to Running Exceptional One-on-Ones

How effective are your one-on-ones? Here's a practical guide for managers and their direct reports...

Join my newsletter

Ā©2023 Founder Coaching Limited. All Rights Reserved.
FOUNDER COACHĀ® is a registered trademark of Founder Coaching Limited.