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negotiating life

Real Leaders Negotiate

Charisma alone doesn’t cut it

Many executives see negotiation as a tool to use outside the organization, in dealing with customers, suppliers, and creditors. Inside the organization, it’s strictly “my way or the highway.” Such executives seem to think that managing people requires charisma, vision, a commanding manner, and not much else. But this belief misconstrues the nature of leadership. I define leadership as the ability to influence individuals so that they willingly act for the benefit of a group. Exerting such influence almost always involves negotiation.

Authority has its limits. After all, some of the people you lead will be smarter, more talented, and in certain situations, more powerful than you are. More fundamentally, though, you’re often called to lead people over whom you have no real authority, such as members of committees, boards, and other departments in your organization. So if you want to improve your leadership, tap into your negotiation skills. Make sure you put them to use in four key areas—interests, relationships, voice, and vision.

Focus on the interests of your followers.
Why should anyone follow you? If you believe that your charisma, your exalted office, or your vision is reason enough, you’re in trouble. The unvarnished truth is that other people will follow you when they judge it’s in their best interest to do so. Effective leaders seek to understand the interests of the people they lead. They find ways of satisfying those interests in the course of achieving organizational goals.

Strengthen relationships with your followers.
The nature of the connection between leader and follower may be psychological, economic, political, or personal, but whatever it is, wise leaders work to strengthen it. Why? Because positive relationships engender trust, and trust is vital in getting people to do what you want them to do. Any proposed action entails risk. People see actions as less risky and therefore more acceptable when suggested by a person they trust.

Find the right voice.
Walt Whitman wrote, “Surely, whoever speaks to me in the right voice, him or her I shall follow.” He hit the nail on the head: good leadership requires persuasive communication. A common mistake is to rely too much on mass communications, such as speeches and company-wide memorandums. Although these types of communications may be efficient and, at times, indispensable, one-on-one meetings with the people you lead will enable you to get to know their individual interests and views. You can then work toward arrangements that address those interests and still allow you to take whatever actions are necessary for your organization’s future. A former CEO who was outvoted by his board on the sale of his company told me ruefully, “As chairman, I thought I had been leading the other directors in the boardroom at our quarterly meetings. I should have been trying to lead them one-on-one outside the boardroom a lot more frequently.”

Work with your followers on a vision for the organization.
Popular commentary on corporate leadership presupposes that a company’s vision comes from its CEO, and that without a strong CEO, the company has no vision. But that’s not the case. People throughout your organization have their own visions of what they would like the organization to be. The challenge lies in forging a single vision out of this multiplicity of views. The best organizational visions are not handed down from on high; rather, they are articulated through multilateral negotiation, which usually requires intensive, face-to-face coalition building.

Whether they’re heading up a large corporation or a small civic group, successful leaders are like skilled diplomats; they don’t so much command respect from their followers as negotiate support from them. They appeal to people’s interests. They build positive relationships. They communicate with each person in the right voice and the right medium. And they keep in mind that their vision is not theirs alone, that it’s shared—something all can actively work toward.

JESWALD W. SALACUSE is the Henry J. Braker Professor of Law and a former dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He is the author of Leading Leaders: How to Manage Smart, Talented, Rich, and Powerful People (AMACOM). His latest book, Seven Secrets for Negotiating with Government: How to Deal with Local, State, National, or Foreign Governments—and Still Come Out Ahead, will be published by AMACOM Books in early 2008.

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