Why Building your Ally Network is Essential to Your Success
Updated: Sep 14, 2021
I learnt the hard way what a lack of allies means to your career. I remember being in a management team meeting and the CEO praising my line manager for the amazing work she had done with the new training framework. Everyone around the room clapped whilst she beamed at everyone except me. She and I both knew that the work was not hers but mine. The moment passed, she got promoted and I left. But if I had known how to garner allies and share my work with others, that moment would never have happened.
To succeed in your career (especially the higher up the ladder you go), the better you need to be at stakeholder management. Let’s think about this in terms of those who can be collaborators, supporters, and endorsers of your work. The more allies you garner, the more you can be represented in the meetings and conversations where you are not present. When people know what you do, how and why you do it and see excellent results, they want to tell others. They can only do this if you have taken the time to get to know them and let them get to know you. This is about bringing more of yourself into the ‘arena’ to build strong relationships with people of interest and influence around you. In the same way, you can also support, endorse and collaborate with your network of allies to help them achieve their objectives. This is the classic win/win situation.
Allies are those people that share a common purpose with you and will back you up publicly when you are deciding or implementing a strategy. Ideally, your boss is an ally, but that might not always be the case. Other places to look for allies might be in the leaders that are peers with your boss or at the next level above them. In these groups, do you see leaders who have some common interest in what you do or who you are? Are there strong female role models you could reach out to or male leaders who you know are generous with their time and support to others?
The most obvious place to find allies is through networking. Company events, professional bodies, affinity groups, and town halls are all great places to find your allies. If you do not have a habit of picking up the phone and asking to meet someone for a coffee, now is a great time to start. When you meet your allies, you need to have your elevator pitch ready (this may need tailoring to address the ‘why I need an ally’ question) and you need to know a bit about the person you are recruiting as an ally.
Once you have made initial contact and have their agreement, it is important to keep in contact. You might not actually need their help for a year, but you should still from time to time give them an update of what is happening in your world, ask how they are doing, and even meet them for a regular coffee if appropriate. You are building a collaborative network to help you grow and get the support you need as you go forward in your career.
As in all partnerships, you need to think about how you can help them as well as asking for their help. For some of your allies – especially if they are senior – the idea of helping them may feel a little out of reach, but perhaps not. Some of your allies may be your current peers. Others may be much further on in their career, and initially, you are going to them to ask for their support. This support may come in several ways, for example, asking them to be a sounding board for an idea you are developing or asking for their advice if you are thinking of a course of action and want help thinking through the consequences. Equally, you may ask them to be an advocate for you if they are on a forum in which you are not represented but wish to have your voice heard, or even ask for their public support if you share the same forum and you know their endorsement at the right time will hold some weight.
Whenever you have called in a favour from an ally, it is important to follow up with an acknowledgment. This might be a simple email, a handwritten note or even buying them a coffee and letting them know you appreciated their support and the impact that it had on the outcome. People feel flattered when they are asked for their help but are more likely to be supportive a second time (or more) when they feel their efforts are appreciated and have made a difference.
I'll be sharing the EDGE model and more insights into the unique challenges that female leaders face in an exclusive FREE webinar on Tuesday 21st September at 1 pm (BST). If you want to hear first-hand how the EDGE model can accelerate your leadership ambitions and have a chance to win a free signed copy of my book, register your interest here.