Negotiating From A Leader’s Perspective

by cv harquail on February 27, 2013

There’s a lot of terrific advice out there to help you negotiate your total compensation package when you’re accepting a new job.

While this advice helps you as an individual get what you personally need, most negotiation advice overlooks how you can transform your personal compensation negotiation into a demonstration of your leadership.

This point was brought home to me recently when, shortly after seeing a great presentation on best practices for negotiating a job offer, I talked with an executive in the thick of negotiating a serious promotion. This executive was doing something more than the typical ‘best practice’.

Beyond ‘Best Practice’

This executive had already been quite savvy in her negotiation. She’d addressed salary, deferred compensation, equity participation, leadership development, and several work-life fit expectations. All of these individual asks were aggressive, but at the same time they were also conventional. It was the other stuff she asked for that surprised her CEO.

The executive included in her negotiation three additional asks, all of which had to do with getting something for her organization.

  • She asked the CEO for a budget to fund an expanded employee development program that included mini-sabbaticals and defined ’10% time’. She wanted to demonstrate to her organization that innovation was not only encouraged, but also deliberately supported.
  • The executive also asked to create a new EVP position and to have the CEO promote a specific manager into that position. She wanted to begin a larger, more comprehensive re-examination of top executives’ portfolios, and she wanted a strong, public commitment to this initiative from the CEO.
  • Finally, the executive asked the CEO to commit to making 2 visits to her division’s location within the next 6 months. She wanted to create an opportunity for her managers to present their new product ideas to a leadership group that included the CEO. The CEO would not be there to approve these initiatives (that would be the executive’s decision). Instead, the CEO would see her managers in action, presenting work they were passionate about. This would get both the managers and their projects on the CEO’s radar screen and reinforce the culture of innovation.

Doesn’t this all sound great?

This executive was using the unique leverage she had in that moment of compensation negotiation to get commitments not only to what would benefit her personally, also to what would benefit her organization.

Demonstrating Leadership

By bringing these points into her negotiation, the executive also demonstrated to her CEO exactly the kind of leadership and assertiveness that the CEO desperately wanted in that position.

The executive also demonstrated that she had not only prioritized what her division needed, but also was putting her plans in motion. Needless to say,  the executive was already proving to the CEO that the CEO had chosen the right leader for the job.

The Stroke of Brilliance

The best part of this executive’s strategy was how she identified what to ask for.

While the executive could have identified these asks through her own due diligence, she did something extra. She went directly to members of the division and asked them what they thought they needed to do their jobs well.

Between the time she received the initial offer and the time she initiated her compensation negotiation, the executive talked privately with a handful of the managers who would report to her. These included members who’d been outspoken about the division’s strategic goals, members who’d made significant contributions, and members who were thought to be ‘high potentials’. She even talked with one of the division’s customers.

From these conversations, the executive distilled a list of members’ priorities. Then, she considered what kinds of support she could get for these priorities given the CEO’s resources. Finally, she explicitly asked for this support as part of her terms for accepting the job.

That Extra ‘Leadership’ Step

What I loved about this executive’s strategy was the way that she demonstrated to her division as well as the CEO how she’d act as a leader. 

By asking division members for their ideas, she demonstrated that she would consider their needs and seek their input in her key decisions.

And, by making these priorities part of her personal compensation negotiation, she put her own interests on par with those of her organization. She demonstrated that she’d personally go to bat for what her managers needed.

Possible Downsides to Negotiating as a Leader

Could this extra negotiating have backfired?

Usually, by the time you’re negotiating compensation it’s less about whether you’ll take the job than it is about the terms upon which you’ll take the job. The executive was unlikely to lose the job offer, but there was a chance that she might have lost the CEO’s full support.

If the CEO had been ambivalent about the executive and her potential, he might not have been willing to entertain these negotiation points. And, if the CEO had actively disagreed with the executive’s priorities, the executive might have found herself in a battle with the CEO before she even started the job.

In either case, however, the executive would have gotten some very useful information about whether the job was right for her.

Take a Leader’s Position in Your Next Negotiation

When you’re negotiating your next offer, go ahead and ask for whatever you need as an individual to feel well-compensated and to set yourself up to succeed in your new role. But be sure to look at the negotiation as a leadership opportunity, and ask for what you, your colleagues and your organization need to be successful.

Use your individual negotiations to demonstrate organizational leadership.



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