HOW YOU CAN BUILD HEALTHY ALLIANCES AND SUCCEED
Let me begin by relating a story that I read which will help to put this into its proper context. The story is told about a boy who valiantly, but unsuccessfully, attempted to move a heavy log to clear a pathway to his favorite hideout. His dad stood quietly nearby, watching his son straining against the load. Finally, he said, “Son, why aren’t you using all of your strength?”
Confused and a little angry, the boy responded, “Dad, I’m using every last little bit of strength I have!” “No, son, you’re not,” his dad quietly responded. “You haven’t asked me to help.”
Effective leaders use all of their strength by recognizing, developing and utilizing the people, around them. They know how to develop healthy alliances, both with those on their own team and those on other teams.
In addition, effective leaders possess the unique ability to build alliances with people who can help to advance their causes. What alliances do you now have that are mutually beneficial? What do you do to foster them and to encourage their growth? Can you think of any alliances, professional or personal that are having a negative impact on you or on others?
Now think again about the short story at the beginning. Are there people who are standing quietly by, watching you strain away with your tasks? Part of your task as leader is to form healthy alliances and to encourage others to step forward and help you. By doing so, you will accomplish two goals: lightening your own load and helping to develop leadership qualities in others.
As the perfect and eternal community of being, God is the ultimate embodiment of a healthy alliance. The perfect love that flows between the Father and the Son is manifested as a third eternal Person, the Holy Spirit. The amazing truth is that God wants us to enter into the depths of this unity.
We as people were created for community. Even hermits frequently live in colonies! But alliances with others can be either healthy or toxic, and it is essential that we take this into account when we engage in personal and business partnerships. We all need allies on whom we can rely and whom we can trust in the tough times.
Perhaps no other American leader is as admired as Abraham Lincoln. And one of this great leader’s greatest assets was his ability to build healthy alliances-even with difficult people. In his excellent book, Lincoln on Leadership, Donald T. Phillips points out how Lincoln built such strong alliances.
This is what Donald T. Phillips observed, “Abraham Lincoln gained the trust and strong alliances on both a personal and professional levels.” Lincoln knew what every skilled leader knows: Healthy alliances are crucial to making a leader’s vision become a reality.
Solomon’s words encapsulate both the benefits and the dangers of forming alliances, and while those words reflect wisdom, putting them into practice requires skill. Lincoln was so skilled at and committed to forging strong alliances that, upon occasion, he overcame others negative feelings toward him. William H. Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state, initially considered the president unqualified and incompetent to run the administration and lead the country. Seward’s feelings were so negative that he submitted his resignation before the inauguration.
Because Lincoln considered Seward a strategic leader, he met with him immediately after taking oath and persuaded him to stay by appealing to his patriotism and sense of self-worth. In the months that followed, their relationship hit a few bumps: Seward discovered that he could not control the president.
Yet in spite of their differences, Lincoln won Seward’s support and loyalty by reaching out on a personal level. The president would stop by the secretary’s home for lengthy visits. The two would take carriage rides together in and around Washington. Because they shared a deep commitment to the country and a common set of values and ethics, they eventually forged a strong friendship.
While no leader will win every potential ally into his or her camp, following Lincoln’s example might prove helpful. Phillips summarized Lincoln’s strategy when he wrote, “Simply spending time together and getting to know one’s subordinates can overcome mountains of personal differences and hard feelings. If followers learn that their leader is firm, resolute, and committed in the daily performance of his duty, respect can be gained and trust will soon follow. Lincoln’s approach will not work for everyone. Some employees will not come around. However, the vast majority the most competent and honest ones will.