Real Leaders Negotiate to Meet Their Organization’s Goals

In his book Real Leaders Negotiate! Jeswald Salacuse explains how leaders can use negotiation to advance in their careers and improve their organizations.

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Real Leaders Negotiate to Meet Their Organization’s Goals

Imagine a typical leader, and you might think of someone who is bold, decisive, visionary, assertive, and charismatic. Now think about the kinds of actions that such a leader might regularly engage in. Delegating, making top-down decisions, and otherwise exerting one’s power might immediately come to mind.

A behavior that’s not typically at the top of the list when we think of leadership qualities? Negotiation. Yet negotiation is a critical leadership skill, writes Tufts University professor Jeswald Salacuse in his book Real Leaders Negotiate! Gaining, Using, and Keeping the Power to Lead Through Negotiation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). Wise leaders negotiate not only with outside customers, suppliers, and creditors, but inside their organization as well, with their peers and subordinates.


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In particular, leaders and would-be leaders can use negotiation to enhance their leadership skills at three phases of their careers, writes Salacuse in Real Leaders Negotiate! These include:

  1. Attaining a leadership position. Would-be leaders often err in assuming that their job negotiations are all about negotiating their salary, benefits, and other perks. In fact, even before they get the job, candidates for leadership positions should focus on negotiating for what they need to succeed on the job, including a clear role and responsibilities, the authority to make decisions, and the approval of other key leaders. Once on the job, leaders should continue to negotiate their role in the organization through ongoing discussions with other members.
  2. Furthering the interests of the organization and its members. Too often, leaders focus on determining what they can bring to an organization rather than on what the organization needs from them, writes Salacuse in Real Leaders Negotiate! Below, we describe the seven daily tasks that leaders need to engage in to meet their organization’s needs.
  3. Withstanding threats and effectively negotiating an exit. When their leadership position is challenged, leaders can draw on negotiation skills and strategies to maintain and strengthen their power. If that proves impossible or undesirable, they need to negotiate the best exit possible from their position.

7 Basic Leadership Tasks

In Real Leaders Negotiate! Salacuse describes the seven fundamental tasks that leaders must accomplish on the job—each of which requires significant negotiation on the part of leaders:

  1. Direction. Members of an organization look to their leaders for direction, but this doesn’t mean that the organization’s vision and leadership goals are dictated from the top down. Rather, leaders engage in elaborate negotiations with other leaders to set goals, and then must negotiate with members to secure their involvement in shaping the organization’s mission.
  2. Integration. Leaders are faced with the task of integrating the people they lead into a cohesive organization or community. The hard work of uniting people with different interests and backgrounds around the common cause of bettering the organization requires significant problem-solving and negotiation from leaders.
  3. Conflict management. As we all know, conflict is inevitable in organizations—and when it flares up, employees expect their leaders to resolve it. Leaders can use proven conflict-resolution techniques, including arbitration and mediation, to help disputants negotiate a mutually satisfactory end to their dispute, as outlined in Real Leaders Negotiate!
  4. Education. To carry out the work of the organization, members require knowledge and skills. Rather than delivering orders, the most effective leaders educate, coach, guide, and advise those they lead, writes Salacuse in Real Leaders Negotiate! Leaders often must use negotiation skills to find an education process that members will accept, particularly when members feel they don’t need guidance.
  5. Motivation. Organizational members turn to their leaders for motivation and encouragement. To determine which incentives will be most motivating to employees, leaders may need to engage in a negotiation process with them.
  6. Representation. Leaders constantly represent their organizations in outside negotiations—whether with clients, potential partners, labor unions, the board of directors, and so on. As agents of their organizations, leaders must ensure that the agreements they reach will be accepted internally. Consequently, in Real Leaders Negotiate! Salacuse advises leaders to secure a mandate to negotiate from parties inside the organization before negotiating with outside parties.
  7. Trust creation. Without the trust of organizational members, a leader will be unable to lead effectively. 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.

How have you used negotiation to enhance your leadership traits in your organization?

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