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executive leadership

What is Executive Leadership?

A behavior that’s not typically at the top of the list when we think of executive leadership? Negotiation. Yet negotiation is a critical leadership skill.

We tend to think of leaders as people who seldom need to negotiate. According to popular belief, their position of power enables those in executive leadership positions to issue directives without discussion, spend more time talking than listening, and easily tamp down troublesome conflict.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The primary tasks of executive leadership— including setting a direction, creating a team, managing conflict, and motivating others—all require strong negotiating skills.

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.

One example of this executive leadership comes from Disney CEO Bob Iger and Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman.

Back in 2015, Sony and Marvel inked a deal to share Spider-Man across five films. Yet negotiations for a third Spidey film ground to a halt.

Actor Tom Holland, who played Spider-Man, was “devastated” to learn that he’d no longer play Spider-Man. He emailed Iger to thank him for “an amazing five years.” Iger ended up calling Holland, who was drinking at a pub with his family. Holland became “really emotional” on the call as he shared how much the Spider-Man films meant to him and to fans.

“It was clear that he cared so much,” Iger said in an interview, “ . . . and that the fans wanted all this to happen.” A month later, the two studios reached a deal. How?

According to Iger, there was a deeper lesson regarding executive leadership and the role of leadership in negotiation: “Sometimes companies . . . or people, when they’re negotiating with one another, they kind of forget that there are other folks out there who actually matter.”

Augment your leadership skills with this special report, What is the Difference Between Leadership and Management?, from Harvard Law School.

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