Negotiating to defend your employees: What do Guardiola and Coppola have in common?

A manager must constantly negotiate. Oftentimes, the most difficult negotiations are the ones that take place within the organization . A manager is also a leader. And as a leader, they are often required to negotiate to retain talent. Negotiating with a superior, on behalf of an employee, is a frequent occurrence in the life of a manager. In organizations where most tasks are carried out on a computer, it is very common for the team leaders to spend most of their time negotiating with the organization to meet the demands of the entire staff. Managers in leadership positions often have to engage in tough negotiations with those who control resources or have the authority to make decisions, in order to acquire, develop or maintain great talent.

Pep Guardiola, Guillem BalaguéIn his biography of the former coach of Football Club Barcelona Pep Guardiola, author Guillem Balagué shares an interesting anecdote. Soon after joining the club in the summer of 2008, before the start of the season, Guardiola identified Lionel Messi as the talent that Barcelona’s team should be built around. However, during preseason training he noticed that Messi was acting sad and distant. This was because the club was not allowing Messi to play for Argentina at the Beijing Olympics. The Olympics were scheduled at the same time as the club’s Champions League clash with Wisła Kraków. The dispute ended up in a court battle, with the ruling going in favor of the club. The club had every right not to let Messi go with Argentina’s national team. Messi wanted to play for his country at the Olympics and was upset over this conflict between the Argentina Football Association and the club.

Guardiola had already heralded Messi as the talent of the future and saw this problem as a unique opportunity to gain the trust of Messi and form a strong bond with him. Guardiola personally sat down with club president Joan Laporta, technical director Txiki Begiristain and director of external relations Manuel Estiarte, and insisted that the club should ignore the ruling and let Messi go with his national team. As Guillem Balagué recalled, “He [Guardiola] explained… the long-term gain outweighed the short-term loss: it would allow him to get the most out of Messi.” Shortly afterward, Pep spoke with Messi and said, “I’m going to let you go because I’ve been an Olympic champion and I want you to be also. But you owe me one.” This helped Pep create a tight bond with Messi, and the rest is history.

Messi playing for Argentina at the Beijing Olympics. Source: Flickr/akiwitz
Messi playing for Argentina at the Beijing Olympics. Source: Flickr/akiwitz

A manager is a leader. A leader must understand their employees and often help them. It is important for a leader to establish a personal connection with the members of their team. Each team member should feel that the leader is capable of empathizing with them. When a leader is able to negotiate with others for the rights and needs of their employees, it acts like a glue that strengthens the relationship between the two.

Here are four key steps that managers should take when they want to defend their employee’s talent:

1. Have a clear vision

First and foremost, managers must have a clear vision. Guardiola had a very clear vision about the style of play he wanted to develop. That is why he knew Messi would play a key role. Only when the manager has a clear vision can they sure of the type of talent they’d like to have , and only when it is clear what type of talent is desired do we know how to defend and nurture it.

2. Identify talent

Once the manager has defined the vision, the next step is to identify the right talent. Another interesting case that comes to mind is that of Francis Ford Coppola and Al Pacino. When Coppola was chosen by Paramount to direct The Godfather, Coppola went through a lengthy casting process to find the right actor to play the part of Michael Corleone. In the end, Coppola picked a young and relatively unknown Pacino for the lead role. The producers were not convinced, but Coppola had already identified Pacino as his guy and needed a little persuasion to convince the producers and keep Pacino in the film.

3. Understand the limitations and be proactive

The next step for a manager is to evaluate the environment and look at potential problems. Guardiola was proactive in his approach and identified that an unhappy Messi could put a wrinkle in his plans. In the other case, Coppola identified that only Al Pacino would work for the character of Michael, so he had to show Paramount that Pacino was the only ideal choice. In an interview with the Actors Studio, Pacino said that he always expected that sooner or later they were going to ask him to walk away from the film. However, Coppola was proactive, and identified the producers’ main obstacle. They did not have enough faith in the capabilities of Pacino and his appeal as an actor.

In order to convince the producers, Coppola shot the famous restaurant scene (where Pacino’s character, Michael Corleone, faces his father’s enemies and his character transforms from a tempered young man into an aggressive and vengeful son). Coppola shot this scene at the beginning of the film and showed it to the producers. Viewing the scene greatly helped to convince the producers.

4. Share your vision

The most important tool for negotiating with your superiors is sharing your vision with the rest of the organization. Guardiola shared his vision with the club and convinced them that it was important to keep Leo happy. Coppola shared his vision with Paramount and convinced them that Pacino was the best choice. In negotiating with superiors, on behalf of the workers, a manager must be sure to convey that they are defending their subordinates, since they are important for the organization . By sharing their vision, managers also get their superiors to buy into that vision and start seeing them as a partner, not an adversary.

A manager has to behave like a leader sometimes. One of the most important leadership skills that a manager must show is that of negotiation. Negotiating to defend the talents of employees is important and quite frequent in the life of a manager. It is important to ensure that one always has the best, most suitable talent available to fulfill the leader’s vision.

About Kandarp Mehta

Entrepreneurship Department. PhD in Management. IESE, University of Navarra. Master of Business Administration, K.S.School of Business Management, Gujarat University.