Your Game, Who’s Ruling the Court?

Danielle Putnam
Contributing Writer
President, The New Flat Rate
Past President, Women in HVACR

Way back when, I loved to play basketball. As a kid I would stand under the basket and rebound for hours as my older brother took shot after shot at the goal. As a senior in high school, I played on not one, but two basketball teams.  I was homeschooled and naturally we didn’t have a team, but the city I lived in allowed us to participate in team sports with the local private schools. So, I joined a private school team, but, my senior year, one team wasn’t enough. The other team was a good old fashion knock em’ out church league, and if you’ve played for a church league before, then you know exactly what I mean.


At the time, the church I attended didn’t actually have a team.  So, I approached my church board and politely requested they sponsor a team to represent our church.  The sponsorship cost was $200 and as a 17-year-old, $200 was a lot to request!  I insured them that this would be a great networking opportunity for our church and a way to be more involved in what was going on in our community. I wasn’t too confident in my ability to persuade, but fortunately for me, they handed me a check for $200 and we joined the league. However, my persuasion ended in their negotiation.


As a teenager, $200 was a lot of money! But money is never free, money always has a price…and in this case, the cost was ten weeks of cleaning! In exchange for the league registration fee I had to agree that myself and the team would commit to cleaning the church building, from top to bottom, every Saturday for ten weeks! I eagerly agreed, eager being the key word here.  The first week, myself and four of my teammates arrived early Saturday morning and spent hours scrubbing the youth building and the main church sanctuary. You can guess that by the second week of cleaning I was cleaning alone.

Naturally, I thought I was being persuasive when we were making the deal, but hind sight is often 20/20, too bad I didn’t know the negotiating power that was on my side of the court.  Now, years later, I recognize I was a terrible negotiator, and I recognize I was not truly the servant leader I thought I was.

How often do we stay late working on tasks that could have easily been delegated or shared, because of poor planning? This style ‘servant leadership’ is a quick way to end up holding the broom in a very large dirty building…alone.


At the time, it didn’t seem like such a bad deal.  I was just glad to be the captain of my team and playing basketball each week.  Time is a great teacher. Obviously, hard work builds character, but when you’re building a lucrative business, smart work builds profit. We don’t always know this early on, when we just want to be on the team and play in the game.

Negotiation, powered by raw excitement, can limit your playing power. This scenario could have easily been reversed if only I had taken a harder look at the offers on the table and left my emotions in the blue service van my dad let me drive as a teenager. I wanted so badly to play basketball that I didn’t negotiate a reasonable rate.  In reality, I’m sure I could have gotten the $200 from my dad…or better yet, I could have gotten the $200 for five weekly cleanings at the church and made it mandatory for the team.  “You don’t clean, you don’t play.” Servant leadership can often be self-inflicted. Clear communication, and mindful negotiation, together, create win-win situations.

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