An Architect Turned CEO Boosts Her Skills in Sealing the Deal and Embracing the Win-Win

A conversation with Kate Thompson about her experience in the Influence and Negotiation Strategies Program

March 29, 2023

Kate Thompson

As CEO of Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, Kate Thompson spends much of her time negotiating with developers and others to bring housing, hotels, cultural anchors, and landscape improvements to the once-downtrodden Rivers District Community in Calgary, Canada. In charge of overseeing $1 billion in development projects, Kate attended the Influence and Negotiation Strategies Program (INSP) to reinforce her negotiation skills and embrace her influence – with the goal of delivering strongly on her organization’s urban renewal goals.

What prompted you to enroll in INSP?

I realized at one point that my job was entirely negotiation. When I talked to my board about professional development, I thought about leadership programs but what I really wanted was a program on what I do day-in, day-out: negotiation. I didn’t want a program that focused only on major project coordination negotiation; I wanted tips and tools that I could apply whether I was dealing with a community association or bringing together a multi-million dollar partnership.

How did the program meet your expectations?

It exceeded my expectations.…I thought I was going to come away with “10 steps to a great negotiation,” but I came away with more approaches to negotiation, an understanding of what influence looks like, and insight into how people respond, which are the fundamentals of good negotiation.

In part of the program, participants work case studies together. How did negotiating with your classmates deepen your understanding of negotiation?

If you're only looking at one outcome, such as ‘I'm going to win or I'm going to lose,’ you've already lost.
Kate Thompson

One of the most valuable elements of these exercises was not just the case studies, but also the debrief of them. When you saw what everyone else had negotiated, you were shocked that you all had been given the same parameters. It was valuable to learn from the different outcomes others generated, to see their process, and to recognize different ways of doing things.

The program explores the role of psychology and human behavior in making deals. How did that affect your thinking?

I hadn’t understood the impact of social interactions and human behavior on negotiations such as the need to complete a negotiation and the need to win.…I know that some approach negotiation from the point of view that “for me to win, you need to lose.” It was validating to have it confirmed that my style of a win-win approach was actually a net-benefit across most negotiations.

This program is also about influence and influence building. What did you take away as a CEO, perhaps especially as a female CEO?

Your posture, your presence, your voice, the tenor, its tone…all of these things skew influence. Something that was reinforced during the program was to own the space you’ve earned. If you are approaching a negotiation or are trying to influence a situation, you’re not going to do it in a shy, introverted, reclusive way. It doesn’t matter what your gender is: It’s really important to own your place at the table.

Has the program affected any negotiations you’ve engaged in since you completed it?

Absolutely. I’ve been able to articulate what I wanted for our company and to be successful in negotiating a couple of major projects. Previously I may have thought it would be easier to capitulate and say, “Ok, fine. We’ll do that,” but I’ve been holding strong, saying “This is where we need to get to,” and believing that we could get there. I think we were able to get to a better place for all parties because of the program.

What advice would you give to someone considering this program?

Do it. As a CEO, I haven’t always invested in myself because I’m busy running a business. But it’s worth it to step away. The rewards are much greater than the investment. And if you’re going to do it, my advice is to go all in and not be distracted by anything in your real world. Be at Stanford, absorb it, make connections, and you’ll get the most out of the program.

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