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I have been a student of great leadership for my entire 30-year career, but for the last 12 years I have been trying to understand why some leaders are extremely successful and others not. My quest to find the answer began by trying to understand what was expected of a leader and what it meant to exceed those expectations.

What is expected of great business leaders? They have to drive revenue and profits, right? If they can generate significant growth in both areas, they are considered even more valuable. If they can generate exceptional growth, expand into new markets not previously considered, and create a respected reputation at the same time, I would argue they have reached superstar status.

It’s easy to agree that those who can accomplish these results would be considered great. But, how do they do it? What is it that they do differently that allows them to accomplish these seemingly impossible results? These are the questions that have inspired my research. So, I started reading biographies of great leaders, I read article after article, I spoke with academics, and I interviewed leaders of all types. Some I considered great, others status quo, and a few that were struggling. During this process, which took over 10 years, I made a discovery.

I discovered that there is one thing that makes a significant difference between great leaders and the rest, and this one thing is… they are great dealmakers. They are artful and skilled negotiators. Further, they are constantly engaged in game changing deals. It is a part of their everyday activity.

How was it that Bill Gates managed to get his operating system to ship with almost every personal computer sold?

How was it that Sheryl Sandberg managed to work out new mobile ads deals with the likes of eBay and Wal-Mart to help build Facebook into a $1.6B business?

How was it that Steve Jobs managed to get a seat on the board of directors for Disney as part of the Pixar deal that had huge impact on both Apple and Disney?

How was it that Walt Disney managed to get many of his Disneyland attractions paid for by others for his exclusive use after the World’s Fair?

They did it by architecting great deals. They understood that if they weren’t working on a deal they were loosing ground, they were wasting valuable time, and they were not advancing.

It is my observation that leaders that are always working on deals are the most successful. They’re buying companies. They’re partnering with others to expand their markets. They’re negotiating unique deals with their key suppliers. They constantly involve themselves in the big deals, and usually have multiple deals going at one time.

While being a dealmaker is not the only thing that separates great leaders from the rest, it is a powerful and important one. It is my belief that it is the most important one.

I often asked myself, “What deal should I be crafting today to ensure maximum growth? What game changing negotiation am I preparing for? What significant business opportunity am I pursuing today?”

One of my favorite quotes is by Leonardo da Vinci:

“People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them…they happened to things.”

It makes me remember that if I am not happening to things today…I am probably wasting valuable time, and more than likely…I am loosing ground. To avoid the status quo…identify that deal you know will be a game changer for yourself, your company or even your family…and let the deal making begin!!!

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