Leaders' Edge Advisor

Allies and Confidants

By Gary De Carolis, President, Center for Community Leadership

Author's Note: The leadership theories of Dr. Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky are central to the work of the Center for Community Leadership. I had the privilege of attending a training at Harvard where both of these internationally recognized leaders in system change work were faculty. Since that time they have honored my work by writing the foreword to my book: A View from the Balcony. As you will note if you are a Heifetz and Linsky aficionado, they also allowed me to borrow their phrase for the book's title.

"Partners (in the work) provide protection, and they create alliances for you with factions other than your own. They strengthen both you and your initiatives."
- Heifetz and Linsky, Leadership on the Line, p. 78.

Very little system change work by leaders is done alone. Yet one of the most powerful myths of leadership is that it is a lonely position that leaders find themselves in when dealing with pressing issues. For sure, we can point to many situations where "the buck stops" at the leader's door. Also, ultimate responsibility for much of what happens in system change work is laid at the feet of the change leader(s), whether it is justified or not. But to accomplish almost anything, leaders need to cultivate and work with allies - people who support their position on an issue and help push that issue forward with their own constituencies.

Leaders may have just a few, or up to hundreds of allies, depending on the issue at hand. The distinguishing characteristic of allies is that they are committed to the issues that the leader is supporting, while not necessarily committed to the leader. An ally can be with you on issues A, B, and C and against you on issues D, E, and F.

The problem comes when you divulge personal or sensitive information to an ally, thinking that they are a close colleague and even close friend only to find that the information you give in "confidence" is now being used against you when that ally is on the other side of an issue. Has that ever happened to you? Recommendation: Keep the most personal 20% of your life to yourself when working with allies! We all make this mistake at least once. Lesson Learned: Make sure you do not repeat it.

The role of allies in your system change effort is vital, and requires attention and energy if you are to be successful. It is important to understand the benefits allies bring to your work - but also the limitations. With prudent care and consideration you will be able to harness the resources and benefits of the leader-ally relationship.

"Confidants can put you back together again at the end of the day when you feel like Humpty Dumpty, all broken to pieces."
- Heifetz and Linsky, Leadership on the Line, p. 200.

The confidant role with leaders is strikingly different. Where there might be scores of allies working with leaders, there are only a handful of people who are true confidants - perhaps as few as one or two. Confidants are people whose sole interest is in the support and protection of the leader. The actual issues that the leader may talk about are only subtext in their efforts to help and support the leader. These are people who the leader can trust 100% of the time.

They may be in the same field of work or in something entirely different. They may live close by or on the other side of the country. They can be close friends, spouses, partners but the one key ingredient is that they are individuals who leaders can trust with their deepest confidences and can count on to have the leader's best interests in mind at all times. For example, President Kennedy had his brother Robert Kennedy as his confidant while in the White House.

Why are confidants important? We have underscored the difficulty of system change work in other Leaders' Edge Advisors. Leaders need to have a few people in their lives to whom they can speak freely and count on for both support and unbiased advice.

Confidants give constructive feedback to help us look at an issue from another vantage point. Without a confidant there is no safe place for leaders to externalize the hurt, frustrations and maybe even anger that they may have felt during a given day. Leaders need to be able to vent so that they can return to a balanced approach to the work and not be burdened by leftover emotions that can affect how they carry out their role.

Questions to Consider

Do you have a confidant? If yes, how has having a confidant helped you in your professional life? If no, what are you going to do to find one?

Do you find yourself working alone in your leadership position? Are you developing allies to help move your system change efforts forward? Are you protecting yourself from attack by keeping your most personal information to yourself?

The Leaders' Edge Advisor is an occasional publication for leaders striving to make a difference in their organizations and communities.

The Center for Community Leadership provides personalized, dynamic leadership consultation and training. Our diverse faculty, all with years of hands-on experience leading system change, are also skilled organizational consultants and trainers. Our consultation services include one-on-one coaching, peer-to-peer 'leadership circles,' meeting facilitation, strategic planning, and conference presentations.

Leadership training options include our trademark 3-Day Leadership Institute, 1-Day Leadership Seminars, each focused on a key leadership topic, and the 1-Day Leadership Primer, which provides a practical, immediately useful introduction to valuable leadership concepts. To learn more, click here.

The Center has recently added new offerings to help leaders enhance their professional effectiveness and the success of their organization, system of care, or other community initiatives. To learn about these, click Leadership Services and/or Systems of Care Training and Consultation Services.

Upcoming Special National Training Opportunity!
Nov. 15-18, 2011
Burlington, Vermont

Four days of lively, interactive, practical training geared to providing state, county, city, tribal and community-based leaders with the tools to thrive as leaders and strengthen your organization/community and/or system of care initiative.

The Art & Science of 21st Century Leadership & System Change, Nov. 15-16

Building the Infrastructure for Your Community, Organization, or System of Care, Nov. 17-18

Stay tuned - Details including registration information will be coming your way in July

Center for Community Leadership · P.O. Box 3069, Burlington, VT 05408-3069
ph: 802-863-9132 fax: 802-863-6586 · info@centerforcommunityleadership.com

Copyright 2005 Gary De Carolis. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

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