Leadership Skills: Alliance vs. Relationship Building

leadership skillsAs a leader, you need to tackle the right challenges in the right order. The level of distractions and demands upon your time can be daunting.

Even if you choose the right challenge at the right time, unless you have the leadership skills to push your agenda forward, you will be wasting valuable time.

Most leaders I work with as an executive coach possess intelligence, drive and know what their challenges are. The leadership skill we focus on is learning how to build alliances. Alliances are often confused with relationship building. They are two different animals.

There is no doubt that relationships in business are important. The more resources (such as a hefty contact list) you bring to any task, the easier your job will be. There’s nothing like speaking with a colleague who has faced and solved the issue you are now dealing with.

Some leaders possess highly attuned social skills and can easily deploy a charm offensive. That is sometimes enough to get people to like you. However, that’s not enough to change minds about important issues; or override longstanding agreements with other
people.

Alliance building requires more subtlety and more planning. It requires that you not only understand the issues, but also know each stakeholder’s agenda.leadership skills

First, you need to know who the chief influencers are and to whom they listen. You can spot the influencers by watching who defers to whom, where all the eyes go in the room when a question is asked and who has the ears of key senior deciders.

Once you have identified the chief influencers, then you need to determine what their interests are, what their agenda is and what they might be willing to trade, in order to help move your agenda forward.

It’s a matter of seeing beyond the intransient “no” you may initially receive and looking for an alternative solution that interests the influencer.

How do you find out what might interest the influencer? Speak to someone that s/he trusts. Once you have that information, you can move your plan forward in three ways:

  1. Take small, incremental steps and build on those wins. Assuming you’ve won agreement in one area, use that as a starting point and add or trade up.
  2.  Carefully chose the first influencer you approach. If you can build an ally right out of the gate, one who is respected by other influencers, you will create a positive cycle that could bring others on board.
  3. Schedule one-on-one meetings with influencers and their supporters, as well as group meetings. The sequencing of these meetings is important and should be determined by how many small wins you’ve secured and what allies are now with you. You need to have built a fair amount of consensus to make groups meetings successful.

This process is not straightforward, nor is a positive outcome guaranteed. Each situation is unique and requires careful planning, flexibility, and excellent leadership skills coupled with a correct reading of the situation every step of the way.

Make no mistake: the ability to move your agenda forward, which is integral to your success, will be measured by your leadership skill in building alliances.

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