A few weeks ago, Naguib Mohd Nor ate lunch with a marketing executive from Dassault Systems. The Frenchman had a puzzled look on his face as he tucked into a plate of spaghetti carbonara.
"I don't recognise this," the man said, as he gestured to his plate of pasta coated with congealed white sauce.
"Traditionally, you're supposed to add the hot pasta to the raw egg mixture. The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs," Naguib said.
"You know how to make this thing?" the Frenchman said, his eyes wide open.
The Dassault executive blurted out that he's passionate about cooking. Within minutes, the Malaysian and Frenchman connected like old friends.
Naguib, the chief operating officer of Strand Aerospace, told me this story to illustrate the secret sauce of leadership: building trust.
In Naguib's playbook, the sauce requires four choice ingredients that will enable anyone to strike up a meaningful relationship with international clients.
Firstly, wit. Wit is more than small talk. Naguib has observed that Europeans value people who are able to say or write things that are clever and usually funny. The mix of light-hearted, philosophical banter leads to …
The second item, shared passion. "When people talk about their passions, they reveal themselves. They're vulnerable. They open up to you," Naguib observed. With such openness, the conversation partners arrive at …
Ingredient #3, trust. Both parties feel sincerity toward the other. When the other party thinks there's depth to your character, and vice versa, you know you're both not going to screw one another over. With that basis of trust, the foundation is there for you to …
Fourthly, talk business. The negotiations are no longer shallow or antagonistic. Where there's trust, one partner might be more willing to take the leap of faith to give you the opportunity, as Airbus did with passing on some crucial design work to Strand Aerospace - at the time, an engineering startup.
"Malaysians are genuinely personable," Naguib said, as he reflected on the conversation he had with the Dassault executive over spaghetti carbonara.
"When you have a personal relationship, you're committed to the person. You want to do your best. The person negotiating on the other side of the table is not a blank face or a purchase order. Your integrity is at stake. That motivates you to do a good job."