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Real Leaders Negotiate

Real Leaders Negotiate

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No, Leadership Does Not require Negotiation

According to conventional wisdom, leading people requires vision, charisma, and a palpable self-confidence —but not negotiation skills. Negotiation is for use outside the firm—for instance, in cutting deals with partners, customers, and suppliers.


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Yes, Leadership Does Require Negotiation

The conventional wisdom is dead wrong. Leadership frequently does require negotiation, and good leaders are invariably effective negotiators. After all, authority has its limits. Some of the people you lead are smarter, more talented, and in some situations, more powerful than you are. In addition, often you’re called to lead people over whom you have no authority, such as members of commissions, boards, and other departments in your organization.


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3 Key Aspects Of Negotiation

To persuade people to follow your lead, you need to appeal to their interests, communicate with them effectively, and sell your vision—all of which are part of effective negotiation.

According to Jeswald W. Salacuse’s book Leading Leaders: How to Manage Smart, Talented, Rich, and Powerful People (Amacom, 2005), there are ways to leverage these 3 key aspects of negotiation—interests, voice, and vision—so as to improve your power and persuasiveness as a leader.


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1. Practice interest-based leadership

Why should the people you’re supposed to lead follow you? If you believe that your charisma, your position, or your vision is reason enough, you’re in trouble. While these qualities may affect how others relate to you, they won’t compel them to follow you. People follow leaders when they judge that it’s in their best interest to do so. Just as wise negotiators focus on the other side’s interests, effective leaders seek to understand and satisfy the interests of those they lead. By doing so, they can better achieve organizational goals.


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… and Remember Interests Are Individual

Effective leaders realize that they need to know people as individuals to truly understand their interests. Some of your peers care more about shoring up their power in the short term than they do about their units’ long-term health. Some individuals care more about long-term career development than about compensation. When you understand where the other person’s true interests lie, you can then shape your messages and your actions to accommodate those interests in ways that will achieve your leadership goals.


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2. Find the right leadership voice

When the poet Walt Whitman wrote, “Surely, whoever speaks to me in the right voice, him or her I shall follow,” he conveyed the notion that persuasive communication is fundamental to effective leadership. Whitman’s words also underscore the importance of shaping leadership communications to meet individual concerns, interests, and styles.


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… and Choose Your Medium Wisely

When deciding how to communicate, recognize that the medium you choose reveals something about you and your relationship with the person you are trying to lead.

A generic, “copy-pasted” memo, for example, about a plan or proposal, could signal that you take people’s support for granted, that you place little value on their opinions, and that you, not they, are running the show.

A face-to-face meeting, instead, shows to each individual person that their support is important and that you respect their autonomy and judgment.


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3. Negotiate a vision for the organization

Organizations, large and small, look to their leaders to establish vision. Popular commentary on corporate leadership presupposes that a company’s vision comes from its CEO and that, without a strong CEO, the company has no vision. But that’s not necessarily the case. Members located throughout an organization have plenty of thoughts about what the organization is and should be. Thus, the challenge of setting a group’s course lies in forging a single vision out of the multiplicity of visions held by the group’s members.


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The 3 Aspects Feed Each Other

Example: Holding one-on-one meetings, which is a medium choice and a component of your voice, will help you get to know your directors’ individual interests and concerns, structure arrangements that satisfy those interests and concerns, and still allow you to make the move that you feel is important for the company’s future.

Another example: The process of articulating a vision is itself one of negotiation—in particular, multilateral negotiation, which usually requires intensive, face-to-face coalition building, which requires face-to-face meetings, which leads us back to voice and interests.


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… and The Leader Brings All 3 Together

Like a skilled diplomat, a leader—whether a corporate CEO or a department head—negotiates support from followers by appealing to their interests, communicating with each of them in the right voice and medium, and forging a single compelling vision that all can get behind.


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