How to Practice Interests-Based Leadership

By Jeswald Salacuseon / Business Negotiations

Why should the people you’re supposed to lead follow you?

If you believe that your charisma, your exalted office, or your vision is reason enough, you’re in trouble.

While these qualities may affect how others relate to you, the unvarnished truth is that other people will follow you when they judge it’s in their best interest to do so.

Claim your FREE copy: Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals

Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Whether they’re acting as individuals or team members, people almost always give first priority to their own interests. Just as wise negotiators focus not on the other side’s positions but rather on their interests, effective leaders seek to understand the interests of those they lead and to find ways of satisfying those interests in order to achieve organizational goals.

Leaders’ failure to comprehend fully the interests of those they lead can have disastrous results.

  • In 1985, Joe Foran established Dallas-based Matador Petroleum Corporation to find and develop oil and gas deposits in the American southwest. Through a series of shrewd acquisitions, Foran built Matador into one of the larger privately held petroleum firms in Texas.

To raise capital, he gave investors seats on Matador’s board. With a 10% interest in Matador, Chairman and CEO Foran remained its largest single investor.

In spring 2o03, Tom Brown Inc., a publicly traded oil company based in Denver, offered to buy Matador for $388 million. Foran opposed the offer, which he felt did not account for Matador’s growth potential. At the board meeting to discus the bid, Foran was astounded when the other directors voted to approve the sale.

He realized too late that the other directors’ interests were not the same as his own. Foran had the energy and the talent to build the company that would give him security in his retirement, which was still many years away.

But most of the other directors were retired individuals, who had been hurt by the falling stock market and declining investment returns. Their interest was to take the money and run – and that’s exactly what they did.

  • Had Foran understood all this earlier, he might have been able to structure an agreement that would have given the directors the cash they needed while still allowing him to keep control of his company.

Effective leaders realize that they need to know people as individuals to truly understand their interests.

Some individuals care more about long-term career development, for instance, than about compensation.

When you understand where employees’ true interests lie, you can then shape your messages  and your actions to meet those interests in ways that will achieve your leadership goals.

Claim your FREE copy: Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals

Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Related Article: Find the Right Leadership Voice

Adapted from “Real Leaders Negotiate” by Jeswald Salacuse for the May 2006 issue of the Negotiation newsletter.