The world lost an alliance manager

Long walk to Freedom

While I was thinking about the passing of Nelson Mandela during my daily morning walk last Friday, elements from his autobiography “Long walk to Freedom” crossed my mind. I read the autobiography earlier this year and only now again I realized that with Mandela’s passing the world not only lost a great leader, but also one of his greatest alliance managers.

During his life Mandela constantly built bridges and created alliances. If he had focussed on short term results and personal freedom, then during his imprisonment there had been several occasions already in which he could have agreed with government conditions in return for freedom. However, his goal was not personal freedom, but something far greater and a conditional personal freedom was not the kind of freedom that fitted with the greater cause. Mandela realized early on that he could not achieve his goal alone and that all parties involved needed to play a role. His focus clearly was creating a sustainable and long term result.

There are many parallels to be seen in Mandela’s life work and in the work we as alliance professionals do. Like Mandela, in alliances too we strive for long term, sustainable, results. To create those results we need to work with our stakeholders and to do so we spend a disproportionate part of our work communicating in the internal organization. When we feel everybody is on board and everybody is aligned, we need to communicate again, because some stakeholders change roles or change personal insights. At the same time we need to work with our partner to achieve a result that our company can not achieve alone. Mandela met a lot of distrust and misunderstanding within the other parties as well as within his own people. He was constantly communicating with his own people to keep them aligned while negotiating with the government at the same time.

We as alliance managers continuously need to step out of our comfort zone to be able to create the results we can not easily achieve alone. We need to lead our organization with the end goal in mind. Captured in organizational matrixes, alliance managers are quite often leaders without authority. Like Mandela, captured in prison, we have the grand vision and need to network, lobby and convince to bring others on board.

Whether captured in organizational matrixes or in prisons, we both need determination and dedication to maintain the vision and reach our goal. About his determination Mandela once said:

Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”