The Art of Diplomacy in Leadership

Key takeaways:

  • Leaders across all industries and professions are tasked with navigating difficult situations
  • Diplomacy is the ability to work with people to accomplish your goals

Being a leader often requires strong levels on diplomacy in order to be successful. Whether you are in business or politics, diplomacy is crucial when there are disagreements between parties and a lot is at stake.

Diplomacy is essentially a fancy word for working with people to accomplish your goals. It is about understanding each other’s point of view and reaching common ground, rather than working through or around people1. Effective diplomacy requires honesty, respect and the ability to recognize and value differences in order build social capital and form trustworthy relationships with other parties.

Historically, President John F. Kennedy is viewed as the gold standard for diplomatic leadership due to his ability to navigate the United States through the tensions of the Cold War and Cuban missile crisis. Kennedy exuberated the core characteristics of diplomacy throughout his time in office while working with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The U.S. president sought to build consensus and compromise on key issues with the Soviet Union in order to prevent a nuclear war.

From a bystander’s viewpoint in modern times, President Donald Trump has been commonly seen as an undiplomatic leader throughout his time in office. Rather than building consensus both within and outside of our government, Trump has often been unpredictable, combative and disrespectful to other parties. The examples of his diplomatic strategy are endless. From domestic issues to notable foreign crises (North Korea, European Union, China, Denmark), his strategy has been bold, yet simple: Win at all costs.

The approach is unprecedented in modern United States history. As a country who is largely viewed as a diplomatic leader in the world, this isolationist-style strategy is one that has not been seen in almost a century. While this approach may produce an occasional win for the U.S. in the short-term, we know that there are significant long-term costs of a bad negotiating strategy.

Strategies and tips for being a diplomatic leader in the workplace

The skill of diplomacy is most easily observed within the political world, but it is also applicable to common business practices. Business diplomats, like political diplomats, must treat people with respect, build consensus and work to achieve common goals1. Here are some “DOs and DON’Ts" for effective diplomacy in the workplace:

  • DO:
    • Hold honesty and trust as key values of your organization’s culture
    • Recognize and appreciate different opinions
    • Be willing to change and adapt your approach
    • Acknowledge the political landscape of a situation and work within it
  • DON’T
    • Place your own needs above others’ interests
    • Threaten or approach others with hostility when frustrated
    • Go behind others’ backs
    • Close off dialogue

Leaders and managers across all industries are tasked with navigating difficult situations with a variety of constituents. Effectively utilizing the skills of diplomacy can help you maintain relationships and create a win-win outcomes under difficult circumstances.

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January 15, 2022 at 12:42 am

Bravo, what necessary words..., a remarkable idea


Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.