Leadership Blueprint: Building Coalitions

Leadership Blueprint: Building Coalitions
Summary: To successfully build coalitions, you need to listen to and understand the other parties' needs, be able to articulate your own division's needs and goals, manage any resulting polarities, and finesse influence so that you can collaborate for joint outcomes.

Listen, Seek To Understand, And Collaborate

Leadership has transformed over the last few years and will continue to transform as leaders face unprecedented complexity and change emanating both externally and internally in their organizations. This series of articles titled "The Leadership Blueprint" offers a blueprint on critical elements of leadership that leaders can adopt and adapt to their organizational contexts. The series focuses on critical leadership functions, including driving digital transformation, leading people, harnessing data, driving culture change, and concentrating on the future, among others. This article discusses the four crucial tactics you will need to build coalitions successfully.

What Does Building Coalitions Entail, And Why Is It important?

To be able to execute strategies and deliver results, you need to build coalitions with other team members, other divisions within your organization, and even other stakeholders in other organizations external to yours that have diverse and varied business interests. Building coalitions means that you build, cultivate, and deepen business relationships so that you can collaborate effectively to address challenges, leverage opportunities, and achieve mutually beneficial business performance outcomes. For example, in a learning and development context, you will need to build coalitions with other divisions, including IT, Product Management, Marketing, and Sales. According to research by Harvard Business Review, high-impact coalitions are an emergent organizational form that connects industry, academia, NGOs, and government to solve problems and deliver impactful outcomes. A great example of such a coalition is the Covid1-19 Healthcare Coalition (C19HCC) which was formed in March 2020 by a group of 18 dedicated leaders from Amazon Web Services. Epic, Mayo Clinic, and Microsoft, among others, to rapidly problem solve and support national and state government efforts to fight the pandemic.

These leaders engaged their personal networks of over 1000 additional organizations organized in 16 working groups. In this coalition, members offered their time, expertise, and network to drive the mission. Building coalitions is an art, and it is vital because it serves as evidence of your ability as a leader to listen, understand, support, and collaborate with others so that together you can deliver results. To successfully build coalitions, you need to listen to and understand the other parties' needs, be able to articulate your own division's needs and goals, manage any resulting polarities, and finesse influence so that you can collaborate for joint outcomes.

Listen Actively To Understand Their "Why"

You have to listen attentively and actively to understand their concerns, challenges, aspirations, and goals. You will listen closely to detect what are their concerns. What is a significant and insurmountable challenge, and how can you and your team help? What are their aspirations and goals, and how can you help your team help drive them forward? Listening actively entails focusing on the speaker, paying attention to what is and what is not said verbally, and asking a lot of open-ended questions. Actively listening also helps you identify where the polarities exist and how critical they are in achieving the common goals. To listen, you will need to reach out to your stakeholders, whether online or in person. One productive way to engage is to set up a joint online meeting for your stakeholders to present their respective strategies and goals. This provides the opportunity to hear their goals and also detect their concerns.

Articulate Your Division's Strategic Goals

A key element of building coalitions also includes your ability to articulate your division's strategic goals and priorities clearly. Doing so enables you to set forth the strategy and engage with stakeholders. You can share your vision through articles, web events, and frequent one-on-one conversations with stakeholders. Articulating your strategy with transparency also strengthens your credibility and helps you understand how to position your division and discern which coalitions to cultivate and deepen. Meaningful coalition building does not imply bureaucratic and rigid structuring but nimble and agile collaborative alliances that tap into creativity, generate new ideas, close gaps, and generate solutions to common problems.

Manage Polarities And Finesse Influence

After you learn about your stakeholders and potential partners and their strategies and communicate your own division goals, you will be able to identify possible polarities, which you will need to manage. Polarities are complicated challenges or problems that appear to be opposite and, therefore, unsolvable. Some examples of polarities include balancing cost, schedule, and quality, fostering innovation while maintaining operations, setting a strategy, and executing it. Managing polarities means that you address the fears and concerns of the other party, transition to recognizing mutual benefits of possible collaboration, and set forth a plan to collaborate for joint outcomes. Through active listening and communicating, you will need to manage the polarities and subsequently finesse your influence. Through influencing, you can identify internal and external politics that affect the progress of the organization. You will need to discern the organizational and political realities and finesse your approach accordingly. Building alliances and coalitions mean that you bring together different parties with varying interests, concerns, and fears to explore and promote joint outcomes that further the organizational mission.

Collaborate For Joint Outcomes

The ultimate goal of building coalitions is to deepen collaboration and promote common business performance outcomes. As a leader, your goal is to persuade others and build agreement through give and take with the various stakeholders. As you deepen the coalitions with the other stakeholder leaders, you also empower your respective teams to work together to exchange information, set joint key performance indicators, tackle challenges and problems, and come up with mutually beneficial problem-solving pathways and outcomes. Teams can use design thinking methodologies to collaborate in person and remotely to ideate and problem-solve.


As a leader, you have the responsibility to build coalitions internally within your organization as well as externally with other organizations, agencies, nonprofits, academia, start-ups, and industry. Building coalitions requires that you practice active listening, understand and manage polarities, finesse influencing and collaborate for joint outcomes. Building coalitions is an art that requires you as a leader to cultivate engagement, understanding, and flexibility, all of which allow you to finesse your influence. To ensure the coalition is successful, you need to foster transparent communication, active listening, and discernment.