Real Leaders Negotiate!

Every now and then, a student, graduate, or professor asks to provide a blog post.  This past summer, Professor Jeswald Salacuse offered to describe how he came to write his newest bookProfessor Salacuse is Fletcher’s first Tufts Distinguished Professor and Braker Professor of Law, and he teaches and researches on international negotiation, law and development, and international investment law.  Also worth noting — Professor Salacuse was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria in the mid-1960s.  You can also read about him from his Faculty Spotlight profile.

My new book, Real Leaders Negotiate! – Gaining, Using, and Keeping the Power to Lead Through Negotiation, published in August by Palgrave Macmillan, grew out of the disconnect that I saw between standard leadership literature and my own experience as a leader.  Conventional wisdom holds that leaders command to achieve their goals and that the effectiveness of their commands depends on their “vision,” “charisma,” “presence” or other mystical qualities that management scholars may dream up.  Having served as a leader of various organizations over the last thirty-five years, including two graduate schools (one being Fletcher), several professional and academic associations, international tribunals, and corporate boards, little of what I read in the literature seemed to apply to the leadership positions I had held.  What I did in those roles was to negotiate — constantly.  So for me, to lead is to negotiate.

That insight became the basis of my book as I explored the way leaders used negotiation to achieve their goals, both organizational and personal — an exploration that led me to focus on two important facets of leadership: 1) leadership tasks and 2) the leadership lifecycle.  Both require skillful negotiation.

Negotiating Leadership Tasks

Leadership scholars tend to focus on what leaders give to their organizations.  In short, they look at leadership from the supply side.  It is equally, if not more, important to examine leadership from the demand side, to ask what organizations and groups need from their leaders.  Real Leaders Negotiate! concludes that organizations look to their leaders to negotiate the following seven daily tasks of leadership:

  1. Every organization, large and small, needs its leader to help establish its goals.  That does not mean that the leader simply declares a vision for the organization and then commands its members to follow it.  The process of goal setting in a complex organization with diverse members is usually a complicated, lengthy, and elaborate multilateral negotiation that requires skillful coalition building.
  2. All organizations want their leaders to cause their members, each with individual wills and often competing interests, to work for the common good.  Through the art of negotiation, skillful leaders seek to integrate the persons they lead into a single organization, team, or community, an essential requirement for achieving its goals.
  3. Conflict management.  Conflict is inevitable within organizations, and their members look to their leaders to resolve conflicts before they become destructive, a task that requires resorting to negotiation and mediation.
  4. Effective leaders educate, coach, guide, and advise the people they lead and thus give them the necessary knowledge and skills to carry out the jobs of the organization.  Arriving at the right educational process often requires the leader to engage in negotiation.
  5. Organizational members turn to their leaders for motivation and encouragement.  To determine which incentives will best motivate employees, leaders usually engage widely in negotiation throughout the organization.
  6. Leaders are constantly representing the organizations they lead to the outside world, whether they are negotiating a labor contract or attending a reception given by a customer, persuading the company’s board of directors to improve the bonus system, or seeking to arrange a merger with another corporation.  Representation is essentially all negotiation.
  7. Trust creation.  Without the trust of organizational members, a leader will be unable to perform the other leadership tasks effectively and thus to lead.  Leaders can build trust through negotiation, specifically by finding ways to meet other parties’ interests and demonstrating their ability to follow through on their promises.

Negotiating the Leadership Lifecycle

An individual’s leadership has a lifecycle that passes through three phases: birth, life, and ultimately death.  What gives life to leadership is power, a quality that one may define as the ability to influence other persons in desired ways.  The three phases of leadership are about negotiating leadership power.  Phase One is leadership attainment, in which a person negotiates to obtain the power to lead, a phase that concerns not just achieving a desired leadership position on the organization chart but also the necessary leadership role, that is, the ability and resources to carry out the duties of that position in a desired way.  Phase Two is leadership action, in which an individual uses leadership power to advance the interests of the organization, as well as those of the leader.  As we saw, negotiation is fundamental for effective exercise of those leadership powers by accomplishing the necessary leadership tasks.

Phase Three of the leadership lifecycle is leadership preservation and loss.  A leader’s position is never permanent.  As a backbench MP in the House of Commons once shouted out in a debate to unseat the Conservative Party’s leader, “Leadership is a leasehold, not a freehold.”  No matter the circumstances, a person’s leadership always faces challenges and threats.  Sometimes a leader can withstand them; in other instances, he or she must yield leadership powers to another person willingly or only after severe struggle.  In either case, the challenged leader will invariably employ negotiation techniques and strategies to hold on to a leadership position or, when that is not possible, exit leadership under the most advantageous conditions possible.  Every wise leader should know when to stop — good advice not only for leaders, but also for writers of leadership blogs.

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