Tomorrow, the third season of the Kevin Spacey vehicle House of Cards on Netflix will drop and the internet will be abuzz with discussion, gossip, and general fandom about the show that proved internet television could afford big-name talent. Whether you join 700,000 other Netflix subscribers in binge-watching the show opening weekend, or you dole out the episodes at a more leisurely rate, keep in mind that Frank Underwood’s machinations aren’t just entertainment. They include some solid leadership by example for small-business owners.
Here are some of the key lessons we’ve taken from Frank’s rise to power.
Forge Strong Relationships
Frank Underwood derives much of his power from the fact that he knows everybody. He can call the president, a labor leader, or even a caterer to make something happen at a moment’s notice. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is an age-old truism, which Frank upgrades to “It’s not who you know. It’s what you know about who you know.” Even if it means taking a hit to his ego, he fosters and maintains strong ties with anybody who can help him accomplish his goals.
As seen in this fact sheet from the Charter Institute of Marketing [PDF], there’s no consensus about how much less expensive a sale to an existing customer is than a sale to a new customer — estimates range from one-third to one-twentieth. But all agree that closing a repeat sale is significantly less expensive. Combine that with results from a 2013 study that found that 85 percent of LinkedIn users generated business opportunities from that platform, find business-to-business contracts on LinkedIn and up to 70 percent of jobs (including contracting to small businesses) happen through personal networking, and the power of strong relationships speaks for itself.
Seek the Win-Win
Frank’s relationship with reporter Zoe Barnes was the definition of win-win. Frank got advance warnings about political moves and a friendly voice in the press. Zoe got access to information that helped her career. Both parties got what they needed. Of course, in the end things went poorly for Zoe, but until then their relationship was the definition of win-win.
Frank’s not alone in valuing this technique, which legendary effectiveness coach Stephen Covey also advocates. Alternately referred to as “integrative bargaining,” the win-win approach forms partnerships and relationships by seeking ways all parties can benefit the most from working together. This is as opposed to interest-based bargaining, in which both parties look to get the most benefit for themselves.
Even leaving out the felonies and betrayals, not all of Frank Underwood’s behavior is to be admired and emulated. A large part of the show’s fan base expects House of Cards to follow a Shakespearean route over its later acts, with Frank receiving the same rough justice as Lady MacBeth and Iago as the series continues.
Although dirty tricks can give your business a short-term gain, the long-term pain of a bad reputation makes this a bad gamble. Just three illustrations of business karma at work include Google’s 2012 smackdown on “black hat” internet marketing with a pair of punishing updates to its algorithm, Bain & Company’s finding that dissatisfied customers represent 80 percent of a company’s negative word of mouth, and the growing power of social media to spread good or bad news about any company. Ultimately, it pays to be the good guy as a small-business owner.