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Leaders negotiate, not dictate!

Many people think that negotiation is a leadership skill that is useful only when dealing with people outside the organisation. By contrast, when it comes to the inside, authority has the last say. I know of a CEO who once confronted the CFO and demanded under what authority he (the CFO) could countermand him, even when financial procedure dictated the fiduciary actions taken by the CFO. It seems that many people have the notion, CEOs included, that inside an organisation, the one who sits atop the pecking order is the one whose word is law. In fact, they think that leading people requires vision, wisdom and a commanding manner, but not negotiation. Real leaders don't negotiate with their people, they tell them!

Unfortunately, that cannot be further from the truth. Why? Well, let's break it down a little... leadership is loosely defined as the ability to guide a group of people to act willingly in accordance with a vision or a goal. The fact of the matter is, negotiation has the exact intent - to get the counterpart party to willingly act in accordance with the agreement, the goal. The two have the same intent, and are invariable intertwined. Leadership almost always involves negotiation, and a good leader will invariably be a good negotiator, inside and outside the organisation. In fact, experienced leaders know that authority has its limits. After all, some people that you lead may be smarter than you, have more experience than you, and may have greater influence than you. So, telling these people what to do will undermine your ability to lead them. If you are a manager who is facing resistance from your talented staff, this is an indication that you lack the ability to lead them, and that, in turn, shows your lack of negotiation skills. A focus on the four key aspects of negotiation - interests, relationships, voice and vision - will improve your leadership skills.

Interest focus

In negotiation, we are taught to move away from position onto interests. Negotiating on position may create an intractable situation, and it is rarely able for two sides to come to an agreement. And that may be the case in the 1978 Camp David Summit between Israel and Egypt. In 1967, following the mobilisation of Egyptian forces along Israeli borders, Israel invaded Egypt, and pushed Egyptian forces out of the Sinai, and occupied the territory there for the next 11 years. At Camp David, President Carter tried to broker a peace deal between Egypt and Israel, but the two would not budge. Sadat demanded the complete return of the Sinai to Egypt, but Begin would not return one inch because he needed the buffer between Egypt and Israel. The discussion then shifted from position to interests. It was determined that Israel was interested in security, and Egypt wanted sovereignty. If both sides could get what they wanted, there would be agreement: Egyptian flags could fly in the Sinai, but there would be no tanks in sight. And that was exactly what they agreed upon. This was the historic accord at Camp David.

When people's interests are met, there is a natural tendency to get agreement. If a "leader" believes that his charisma, his vaunted office or his vision is enough to get people to fall in line and move with the flow, he has another thing coming to him. The truth of the matter is, people don't follow people who don't have their interests at heart. Whether acting individually or in a group, people will give first priority to their own interests. Just as we saw how interests played in the negotiation between Sadat and Begin, we also see that leaders who bear their followers' interests in mind, and effectively work to satisfy those interests, will get them to achieve organisational goals. Gone are the days where we can say, "Well, you are being paid for doing you job, now do it!" If that is the "leader's" attitude, then expect your talent to move on to the next higher bidder.

So what does this mean to leaders? Well, they need to know their people as individuals in order to understand their interests. Some people are interested in learning and developing themselves rather than money; others are interested to make their children's tuition, and will gladly work the graveyard to earn just that little bit more. If you don't know what interests drive your followers, you will not be able to get them to drive yours.

Relationship building

Another essential part of negotiation is the building of relationship. Just as no one will tell you their interests if they don't trust you, no one is going to fall behind your thoughts and ideas if they only see you as the means to achieving an end. In negotiation, the step before bargaining is information sharing. And the reason why this is so is as much a means for each party to understand the other, as it is to build that relationship so crucial to get agreement. It is for this reason that we teach our course participants to stop the negotiation process the moment they start developing negative thoughts about their counterpart, and to shift the discussion away from the subject at hand, and to learn something personal about the other party. It is only when we realise that our counterpart has 4 daughters, two of whom have Down Syndrome, that we realise that he is playing hardball simply because he cannot afford to lose a couple of dollars here and there, and we then can relent our charging attitude and see how we can reach win-win. In similar fashion, a leader will have to make that connection, and build trust with his followers, because any strategic positioning entails risk, and he will need to rely on the trust bank with his followers to support the risky notion.

Four building blocks can be utilised to build relationships with people that you lead:

(1) two-way communication, which allows unimpeded flow of information both ways;

(2) a strong commitment from the leader to address the interests of his followers

(3) reliability, which the leader demonstrates by behaving predictably, and honouring promises and commitments;