Real Leaders Negotiate: Fletcher Professor Jes Salacuse Discusses New Book at Ginn Library

The Fletcher School is no stranger to literature involving leadership and negotiation. As professor and former Fletcher dean Jeswald Salacuse noticed, however, these two genres often fail to address one another. Rather, leadership and negotiation are often treated as subjects unto themselves: matters of vision and drive on the one hand, and agreements and alternatives on the other.

Drawing on his experience in academic and private-sector leadership, Salacuse came to the following conclusion: “To lead is to negotiate.” Contrary to popular opinion, leadership is not simply a matter of developing a vision and then cracking the whip. The act of leadership certainly involves vision and execution, but the journey of leadership fundamentally involves negotiation at every stage, he said.

Salacuse traces that journey in a new book, Real Leaders Negotiate!: Gaining, Using, and Keeping the Power to Lead Through Negotiation (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017), which he presented to the Fletcher community in a book talk sponsored by Ginn Library on Nov. 1. Building on his insights, Salacuse’s book unites leadership and negotiation literature and distills from them frameworks, strategies and tactics for negotiating the journey of leadership.

Central to Salacuse’s vision is the idea that “leadership is a leasehold, not a freehold.” In other words, no leader is self-sufficient, and no leader holds permanent title to any given position. Leadership consists of the ability to influence people, but all leaders require the support of influential people to gain and sustain their power. In this light, leadership requires constant assessment of interests and efforts to influence – in short, a continuous negotiation with various stakeholders.

When that negotiation breaks down, problems arise. As Salacuse wryly noted, the news has been full of stories lately about leaders who tried to impose rather than influence – and who quickly found themselves outside the realm of supporters’ interest. In contrast to zero-sum imposition, negotiation is a positive-sum process that allows a leader to influence outcomes while still accruing leadership capital. Once leaders say “my way or the highway,” they’ve forced a showdown in which they must win or leave, he explained.

Too many leaders, in Salacuse’s view, put themselves on this precipice prematurely, and with predictable results: sooner or later, a challenger prevails. This situation usually indicates a failure of analysis, preparation or both. Just as successful negotiators must intimately understand their interlocutors’ interests, successful leaders must always understand the subtle balance of interests and influence that sustains their position.

To that end, Salacuse’s book offers three key pieces of advice for leaders. First, one’s hold on power depends on the support of influential people. Second, that support will be given only as long as one’s leadership is perceived to be in supporters’ interests. Third and finally, supporters’ perceptions of their interests can change sharply and suddenly, thereby costing unprepared leaders their position.

Concluding his talk, Salacuse emphasized that good leaders – like good negotiators – are always prepared. With its robust educational resources and emphasis on intellectual debates, Salacuse believes Fletcher offers a great place to begin that preparation.

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