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Finding Allies, Building Alliances by Mike Leavitt & Rich McKeown

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Businessmen, politicians, community leaders, even recreational groups, have all at one point or another been in a somewhat curious situation when dealing with colleagues, teammates or competitors.

Finding Allies, Building Alliances: 8 Elements that Bring – and Keep – People Together unravels the mysterious complexities within the corporate world, including diversity and competing interests, to teach any professional how to succeed in the workplace. The lessons can be applied to corporate entities, teams, politics or a variety of other settings.

Authors Mike Leavitt and Rich McKeown have vast experiences within the public and private sectors. Their respect amongst peers in the workplace makes them an authoritative voice in this field.

Former Governor Mike Leavitt served as Utah's governor for three terms, from January 4, 1993 through November 5, 2003. He then served as the 20th Secretary of Health and Human Services under former President George W. Bush from January 26, 2005 through January 20, 2009.

McKeown, president and CEO of Leavitt Partners, previously served as chief of staff for Leavitt at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as throughout his terms as governor and as administrator of the EPA.

Finding Allies bases its arguments off of the idea of a value alliance, defined as "a group of participants with aligned interests pursuing an outcome with value for each of them." It continuously comes back to this point, stressing that creating and being part of a value alliance is imperative not only to every leader, but also to every collaborator and organization, no matter the size. Individuals, teams and organizations cannot accomplish goals on their own – they must create alliances and tackle the bigger issues together.

Eight elements are outlined as necessary to create a successful collaborative network:

1. Shared common pain. This is the shared problem that brings individuals, groups or entities together to work in ways that would otherwise seem counterintuitive. They cannot solve a common issue on their own, and must pool their knowledge and resources.

2. A convener of stature. An alliance needs a person or organization that commands respect from various audiences. When they speak, people listen due to the convener's reputation. This person or organization is known for being fair and trustworthy, and for getting results. The convener will keep sight and remind others of the common interest, vision and commitment.

3. Representatives of substance. The group must be made up of the right people who bring different perspectives, ideas, expertise and resources to the table. These are often decision makers who are known for following through.

4. Committed leaders. When there's a rough patch, the alliance will need leaders who possess the skill, creativity, dedication and tenacity to move the group forward.

5. A clearly defined purpose. A driving idea that keeps people on task rather than being sidetracked by complexity, ambiguity, alternatives or distractions.

6. A formal charter. A set of established rules that create stability and help resolve differences and avoid stalemates. It includes the organization of the alliance, a time table and how decisions will be made.

7. The northbound train. If progress isn't made, participants will leave the alliance. The group must move forward, meet its milestones and keep members engaged and working towards the common goal.

8. A common information base. Keeping the playing field level keeps everyone in the loop. If the group is transparent, no one feels left out or that their opinions or ideas have less value than another person's.

Leavitt and McKeown have created numerous sets of guidelines with examples of each of their rules. One instance includes defining a purpose so a collaboration doesn't "fail or drift into unproductive and endless discussions." If the true purpose of the alliance is defined and articulated early on, then participants will not approach each interaction from a "How will this benefit me or my organization" viewpoint – they will instead work with the other key stakeholders to accomplish the common goal that will benefit all parties involved.

Throughout the book, Leavitt and McKeown give personal examples to exemplify the eight principles of a value alliance, among other imperative parts of collaboration. As an example of "the northbound train," Leavitt discusses his decision to ask his friend, governor and formal presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to lead the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Utah. Leavitt also explains how Romney asked Leavitt himself to "convene a group to quietly get ready to govern" during the 2012 presidential campaign. Leavitt goes on to explain his approach to this task called the Readiness Project, which was to gather a team quickly, develop a plan for Romney's first 200 days in office, write a federal budget and "organize all of the necessary functions of a White House in waiting" while coordinating these tasks with Congress. These deliverables, Leavitt explained, required a great amount of collaborative efforts.

The authors go into depth and detail discussing how each of the eight elements of collaboration and a value alliance are imperative, giving real-life examples along the way. Anyone interested in how collaborations work successfully, from politicians to business leaders, will benefit from the lessons in this book.

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