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Thought Leadership Allies and Ambassadors | Morag Barrett

Thought Leadership Allies and Ambassadors | Morag Barrett | 378

Why allies and ambassadors are critical to the growth of thought leadership.

An interview with Morag Barrett about finding allies and growing relationships with generosity.

How can you identify allies and ambassadors for your thought leadership, and what can you do to cultivate a relationship with them?

When trying to expand the reach of your thought leadership, having allies and ambassadors is essential. You need people who can amplify your ideas when you are not in the room, and who will help to take them to heights you could not have reached on your own.

Morag Barrett is the Founder and CEO of Skye Team, an international leadership development firm. She is also the author of The Future Proof Workplace: Six Strategies to Accelerate Talent Development, Reshape Your Culture, and Succeed with Purpose.

In this episode, we discuss allies and ambassadors – people who evangelize and help grow your thought leadership reach. What makes a person an ally or an ambassador? What are the differences between the two? Morag not only helps us define their traits, but also helps us understand how to identify these amazing resources.

Next, we talk about building relationships. Morag shares her insights about the conversations that are critical to creating allies and ambassadors, and how sharing the spotlight can get you further. She cautions against engaging in “transactional relationships,” preferring to look at the long game – be generous with your time and energy, and buy in to the relationship at first, in order to get the returns you hope to achieve.

Three Key Takeaways:

  • A thought leadership ally can be a sparring partner as well as a spokesperson for your ideas.
  • When seeking allies, don’t just look at your current circle. Reach out to past circles and reconnect.
  • When starting to build a relationship with an ally, avoid asking favors. Concentrate on getting to know them, and find out how you can help each other.

Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.

And if you need help scaling organizational thought leadership, contact Thought Leadership Leverage!


Bill Sherman How do you take an organization’s ideas to scale? Well, you need allies and ambassadors within your organization and beyond your organization. But what is an ally in thought leadership and how do you recruit and nurture them? My guest today is Morag Barrett. Morag is the founder and CEO of SkyTeam, and she’s written extensively on the concept of building deep relationships and turning adversaries into allies. In today’s conversation, we’ll explore how to take your thought leadership to scale through allies and ambassadors.

Bill Sherman I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership ready. Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Morag.

Morag Barrett I’m excited to be here, Bill.

Bill Sherman So, you and I have both online and offline had conversations around the concept of building allies. That is, finding individuals who will help support you or support you, take your ideas to scale. So how do you define an ally?

Morag Barrett Oh, an ally is your best friend at work, and you can have more than one best friend, be clear, but for everybody listening to this conversation, I think it’s easiest to sum it up with – think about the person in your career. Boss, colleague, whatever who you would jump at the chance to work with again. And that, to me, is probably the ally for each of us. And for me, what distinguishes them is they’re the ones who are there, championing you and celebrating your success when you need it. They’re the ones that will give you the kick in the pants when we all need it. And they’ll hold us accountable for being the best version of ourselves. So that, to me, is an ally. What about you, bill?

Bill Sherman So I use a slightly different definition of ally. So I think about allies from the perspective of thought leadership, which is about taking ideas to scale. So when I talk about allies, I’m talking about folks who will help open doors for you and help you take an idea to a place that you couldn’t have taken it on its own. Now your allies may also to use your kick in the pants metaphor. It may not be you, but they’ll help kick the idea into shape. They may be your intellectual sparring partner.

Morag Barrett Oh, I agree. And think about it, whether it’s accelerating my career or accelerating an idea or shaping an idea. Allies are invaluable because they give you that outside perspective. And for me and a true ally, they’re the ones who are championing the idea and saying, Hey, Bill, you need to talk more because here’s what she’s working on vs. we’ve had adversaries and rivals who might go the other way, which is, Hey, Bill, talk to me more. I gave me this thought, but I’m now running with the idea and they are stealing credit. So you’re right, allies and advocates amplify, but they don’t just amplify me when I’m with them. They amplify us when we’re not in the room.

Bill Sherman And this is one of the reasons why I was excited about this conversation. So I use the term ambassador in that case, right, because the ambassador speaks on your behalf and speaks on the ideas behalf when you’re not in the room, just like an ambassador would in a diplomatic setting. Mm-Hmm.

Morag Barrett Yeah, I agree. And for me, I think my differentiation there would be two degrees of separation. So the allies are there in the room with you, whether that’s a virtual Zoom room or in the meeting room. If you’re actually able to meet in three dimensions, your ambassadors are almost like ripple effects. So you’re going to have first degree ambassadors who are championing the idea for you. But also, there are going to be the second agree that, hey, I heard that Bill and Morag were working on this. If not, you should talk to them. And that’s where we start to get the ripple effects, where things start to go viral. But also we start to get momentum and curiosity behind the ideas and how they may help us all individually and collectively learn, grow and succeed.

Bill Sherman And if you’re trying to take an idea to scale and create even a movement, having allies and ambassadors, First Order and Second Order is absolutely essential because there’s no amount of work that you can do individually or as a small team if you’re working on a big project that has the potential for significant impact. You need help.

Morag Barrett You do. And I think one of the mistakes I’ve made, certainly in the early part of my career was I valued independence vs. interdependence. It was one of the catalysts for writing my first book, Cultivate the Power of Winning Relationships. I’m pretty smart. I’m pretty resourceful. Give me a challenge or a project, and I will go, do and execute with a minimum of supervision. But the reality is, as soon as – you’ve just nailed it, as soon as we start involving others, we get that exponential, and it grows much more quickly. It becomes infectious in a good way. Bear in mind, we’re living through a pandemic, and we start to incorporate other ideas. I mean, we talked about my latest book manuscript again working with input from editors. Each time as much as getting your homework graded, it’s stressful. Each iteration just makes it tighter and makes it more robust to help more people in the future.

Bill Sherman So how do you wind up cultivating allies rather than creating adversaries and rivals?

Morag Barrett Well, the first piece is understanding what is it, the it trying to achieve personally and professionally. So whether you’re working within an organization’s ecosystem or whether you are a thought leader who is sharing with a broader community, understanding what is what does success look like for you? And then I suggest to starting with the first five who are the first five people that come to mind that have an opinion or have a voice that is being listened to within the company that you’re operating? And those are your potential allies and ambassadors. And so once you know that list, then you can start taking the first steps to cultivate the relationship and getting them on board with the idea and being clear and explicit around how they can best help you to help them to get the word out.

Bill Sherman So you talk about cultivating allies. What does that mean?

Morag Barrett It means, and this is the whole premise of my next book, You Me Way is it starts with me. And if you think that Gallup have been doing research on engagement for 20 plus years and off their Gallup 12 questions, Question 10 is Do I have a best friend at work? And for me, and then the premise that Eric and Ruby, my coauthors are putting forward in our new book is that that is passive. That means I get to sit back and say, No, you were mean to me at lunch time. I therefore don’t have allies in this company. Therefore, my engagement is whatever. And instead, our hypothesis and our research is showing the question is am I an ally? Am I a best friend at work? So when it goes back to your question, how do you have to go first? Which goes back to identifying those five relationships reaching out, being curious? And that’s where we came to the cultivate because it’s proactive. I have to cultivate my relationships. I’m not a victim. And if I don’t have those allies, if I don’t have the ambassadors or however you want to describe them, then I need to choose to look up. Identify those critical stakeholders. Be intentional about how I show up and then ultimately do our best to ensure the mutual success.

Bill Sherman So I think the phrase, if you want a friend, be a friend also applies to allies. If I hear you correctly as this hypothesis?

Morag Barrett Yeah, absolutely and interesting. In my first career, I was 15 years in finance and I remember being told Bill, Well, it’s not personal, it’s just business. And the focus absolutely was always on the numbers. Well, if that was true, then we would all be highly successful in a given field. And what I realized was that it isn’t. It is the reciprocal, it’s the relationship piece, the who we are and how we relate. That makes the true difference to success. Whatever business or industry you’re in, whatever thought leadership idea you’re trying to get others to grasp on to, it comes down to the quality of the relationship and the more that we know, like and trust each other, the stronger those relationships, the more willing people are to listen.

Bill Sherman One of the phrases that I love is “relationships are like muscles, the more you use them, the stronger they become.” And one of the things that I’ve noticed and I’d be interested in your perspective on this is a lot of people when they start thinking about allies and ambassadors, people who could help spread their message right or share their idea. They take a very narrow sort of subset if they struggle to look back and look expansively because we have colleagues we worked with 15-20 years ago, maybe people from college.

Morag Barrett Mm-Hmm.

Bill Sherman How do you help people expand their range of thinking about allies.

Morag Barrett So, relationships and allies, they’re built one conversation at a time. And interestingly, I have two examples. In response to that bill, I literally had a graduate from one of my past leadership programs. Call me this week to explore how I could work with his organization to help effect some culture change. And he and I have not spoken for more than 13 years. So when we think about cultivating ally relationships, often we think it’s going to be too hard, take too much time. And in that example, the answer is no. We just need to remain visible so it can be as simple as giving somebody a call after they’ve listened to this podcast episode, sending them a slack message or an email that just says, Hey, Bill, I know we haven’t connected in a while. I was thinking of you today. I hope all is well in your world. And that, to me, is a deposit in the relationship bank account. And I opened by asking about thinking about your best colleague, the person you jump at the chance to work with again. Well, I dare you. I double dog. Dare all of your listeners, whoever you’re thinking of, who ever came to mind in response to that question. Send them a message now that says, Hey again, Bill, I was thinking of you. And here’s why. And I guarantee the message you get back is going to boost your day. You’ve made their day and you’ve strengthened the relationship and it took seconds. And so part of it is being intentional, being aware of who is in your immediate circle or in your past circles that you can reconnect with.

Bill Sherman And with that being purposeful and being personal. So the automated outreach and the tools that are out there, dear insert name, you know, and we’re recording this towards the end of the year where the annual this is what I did this last year and it’s me, me, me rather than how are you?

Morag Barrett And that’s it, start with how you and it’s interesting as I get ready to launch our book next year, I mean, 16 years of SkyeTeam and I have never sent one newsletter and I have, in theory, a connection that will 12000 on LinkedIn. All people who’ve met me through keynotes, through graduate programs, who worked alongside. I’ve never sent one email newsletter and there’s a bit of me that’s keeping up with the Joneses. We’re told we have to do these things. But in my experience, it hasn’t been necessary. Now there are people who are very successful at doing that. And yeah, if it suits you and if it’s working for you, great. But each of us need to find our own definition of what does it mean to be an ally? What does it mean to be an ambassador or a thought leader? And then we can hold ourselves to our own standard of did I live up to my expectations and how am I going to change and tweak my game so that I can be the best I can be? But ultimately, again, the ripple effect. It doesn’t matter if more I get successful. If I’m successful in a bubble, the whole point is how can I help others to be successful in their own careers and their own area of expertise?

Bill Sherman Absolutely, and so one of the things that I’ve seen, the folks who are successful at practicing thought leadership either individually or on behalf of their organization. They know how to stay on message for themselves, but they also are very generous. They enjoy shining the spotlight on others with good ideas.

Morag Barrett Indeed. So, sharing that spotlight, bringing in and giving recognition to others because it doesn’t matter whether you’re a solopreneur or part of a 10000 company or more global enterprise, everybody’s success is dependent on others. Yours is success is dependent on the tribe that listens to this podcast. I was listening to your episode with Ethan Beute, and he was talking about how he found his community when he listens to your episodes. And I was thinking, That’s so true. Is, is there the one thing I can take away is the one thing we can share because 1+1 truly becomes three when we’re acting as an ally, when we’re acting as an ambassador for others.

Bill Sherman And recognizing that if you look at this purely transactionally of what can I do for you today, what can you do for me today? That’s not the time horizon that you need to be thinking about.

Morag Barrett I would agree. I mean, Dorie Clarke’s new book, The Long Game, has been influential for me and been focused on not just the short termism of Can I win this race, but planning for the long-term marathon and within cultivate. I share four questions that underpin every relationship, and this includes being a thought leader. And you touched on the first two there when you used the words transactional and in banking. This is where most relationships start and stop. And it’s question one is can I count on you to do your stuff, get it done and back to me on time? And can I depend on you? Moves to a little bit more proactive. Can I depend on you to give me warnings of impending disaster, to spot the typo, to fix the formula in the Excel spreadsheet? And this is all about what we do and how we organize, and it will be okay. But at the rate of business in the 21st century, and as we saw with the pandemic at the speed of change, literally hour to hour, then you need to get to yes to the second two questions, which is do I care about you? Not in a group hug, trustful sort of way, but do I care about your success as much as my own and ultimately, do I trust you? And if you can’t get yes to those final two, then you can shout your fabulous ideas from the rooftops, but you will not be the influential thought leader that others are going to listen to and act on. So it’s Can I count on you? Can I depend on you in terms of what you’re sharing? But unless I care about you and unless I trust you, I’m not going to actually act on it. It doesn’t become sticky.

Bill Sherman And if I understand that correctly, those last two questions are the ones that determine whether someone becomes an ally.

Morag Barrett Yes, because they’re all about the relationship, it’s who we are and how we relate, those last two questions are about the human element, not just the project to do list the logic that we need to get. And again, it goes back to why did I call the book cultivate? Because in order to cultivate allies, I need to go beyond the job title. I need to and be curious about past lives, past careers, talents that you could bring that maybe aren’t obvious on the on the surface and curious about how I can ultimately help you. It isn’t a quid pro quo relationship, maybe an hour ally relationship I’m giving and you’re receiving, not taking, but you’re receiving the benefit of that on an 80 20 split. Other relationships, maybe it’s more 50-50, but the key is that we’re all clear about the role we’re playing and we’re moving together in the right direction.

Bill Sherman If you are enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about the podcast, please leave a five-star review and share it with your friends. We are available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all major platforms, as well as at

Bill Sherman So I have a question for you. There are times where we look across our network of connections and we realize the ideal ally isn’t present in our world. So how do you turn someone who would be that aspirational ally? And I think you started this process with the framework. What if I know there’s someone that I want to build into an ally and cultivate that relationship? What do I do? How do I get started?

Morag Barrett And I’ll happily share the research that we’ve had, but I’m curious, what have you done to grow the platform that you have with the podcast, with the work that you do? How have you overcome those perceived gaps?

Bill Sherman So the answer that I would give is you lead with generosity first and foremost and you find ways to be deeply relevant to that audience. And sometimes that takes a lot of muscle work thinking beforehand rather than going out and saying, Hey, how can I help you? You have to do your homework first.

Morag Barrett I agree. So, our first chapter, ironically or not, is abundance and generosity, I think when we’re looking about how we can give and how we can serve others, but within guardrails, Renee Brown was talking about this recently, and it doesn’t mean that you become a yes-person that’s just a doormat and everybody else is taking advantage of. It’s knowing what does success mean for me? What am I willing to give and what am I willing not to? But making it easy for others to engage with us? But the second way to do the aspirational is forget second seven six degrees of Kevin Bacon or separation, etc. In today’s modern world, with LinkedIn and everything else, you’re only two degrees of separation. Chances are there’s somebody in your network who knows they’re aspirational person. And so it starts with courage. It’s the ask Hey, Bill, I’m looking to get in touch with so-and-so. Would you effect an introduction? What advice would you have? And then going back to Dorie Clark and the long game, her advice is and no asks of that person for one year. So maybe you make that introduction to the person that I’ve wanted to get to know? Well, I would suggest at the beginning saying, here’s why I wanted to get to know. I think there is so much that you can learn from you or you can do to help me. But right now, I’m just focused on getting to know each other. And so not making overt asks of that person until at least a year later, which comes back to it’s the long game. It doesn’t happen overnight. Now, occasionally we meet folks that, you know, like the movies, you fall in love, and it seems like we’ve known each other forever. Then go wild there. But ask understand abundances in general. What are you willing to give and what framework identify those aspirational stakeholders and then ask for the introduction and see what happens?

Bill Sherman I’ve had a friend who years ago taught me a lesson. And he said in terms of asking, you can always ask What are they going to do? Tell you that they’re taking away your birthday? No, absolutely not. There is not a harm in a respectful ask. Of course, it has to be respectful and appropriate. But if you never ask, then there is no opportunity.

Morag Barrett No, and a good friend of ours, Laurie Lance, she talks about the fact the answer to every question you don’t ask is always no. But if you ask respectfully, give people a choice versus they’re backed into a corner, feeling obliged when people can give you a wholehearted yes. Anything is possible. And even if it’s a wholehearted no, invariably it’s a wholehearted no right now continue to nurture that relationship and who knows where that leads. But it all starts with the asking and nurturing that relationship, cultivating that relationship over the time.

Bill Sherman So one of the things that I want to ask you is moments of success from allies and creating allies. Is there a story that comes to mind or an example of how someone cultivated allies to help an idea go further and further?

Morag Barrett Oh, my goodness, there are so many that come to mind, and I’m just trying to think that even right now, I’m looking at the LinkedIn exchanges I’ve got going on, I have colleagues and friends who’ve been nominated and recognized, you know, top 150 thought leaders, et cetera. And what fills my heart is the celebration of success. Yes, acknowledging that their name is on the list, but the calling out of the peers and colleagues who are there too. And that, for me, is what gives me goose bumps with ally and ambassadors is the how do we learn and grow and challenge each other healthy competition, but ultimately celebrate each other’s successes? This morning I was graduating a leadership program, and we ask each participant to come and share a two-minute leadership point of view and to anchor that they show images of. He was my philosophy before the program, and here was my philosophy after. And the one thing that came from the graduation this morning, one of the key themes that came through was especially in the current times where many of us are working in a distributed environment was the sense of team and community that are being created. How many of them felt that at the beginning, I’m on my own, I’m blindfolded, I’ve got no idea how to deal with it. And then the post program impact was I may not have all of the answers, but I now know I’ve got a toolkit I can pull on. But more importantly, I’ve got a group of leaders, all of you on this call who I can bounce ideas off. And that, to me, is the powerful legacy that’s within each of us. And what we’re trying to achieve is thought leaders is to get people to feel like they belong and have an element of control that helps everybody move forward.

Bill Sherman As heads of thought leadership within organizations, one of the roles that I see is not only cultivating good ideas, but also elevating them and making them visible right across the organization beyond customers, communities, vendors, policymakers. But to do that, to be able to elevate ideas, you need to have those allies within the organization and beyond. And so what you almost have when you’re head of a thought leadership is a requirement to empower others to master the art of building allies.

Morag Barrett Yes and giving them a mission to do something like go back to that analogy from banking of it’s not personal, it’s just business. And if we don’t actually give time and thought to who is dependent on me for their success or vice versa, if we’re not scheduling spontaneity and just reaching out to folks, then we very quickly start to get to that politics, silos and turf wars or that sense of isolation of here I am sitting in my bedroom working. I’m assuming Bill’s got it easy because I haven’t heard from him in three weeks. And those four, yes, as I mentioned earlier, very quickly either become four maybes or at worst, four. No. And so as thought leaders making it explicit that find your own words to describe this idea, this philosophy, this approach, this new widget, equip people with the opportunity to ask, Man, I was talking to one of the leaders in the program that graduated today, and they’re in the hospitality industry. And he was talking about service and the way that they talked clients and guests and introduce them to good wine pairings, et cetera. And my question for him was, Well, do they know what to ask? What are your excellent service you do? They’re doing well. And could you equip your new service with three questions that they could start using to help encourage people to look at other parts of the menu? And I think that’s often where we overlook we live with our thought leadership, the concepts so much we assume it’s obvious to everybody else, but sometimes it’s just it’s the basics and empowering your teams news organizations with. Here are the three bullet points we want you to share. And how would you put this into your own words and how would you demonstrate the impact it’s had for you? That’s again, how you build momentum across the organization.

Bill Sherman I think that’s a great example to close on in terms of finding ways to make the idea simple and then equip others to tell that story. Thank you for joining me today for a conversation around allies. Morag, if someone’s interested in learning more about your work, where should they find you?

Morag Barrett Well, they can. Google my name, Morag Barrett, and I will come up easily. Please connect with me on LinkedIn and of course, go to SkyTeam. That’s s k y e team dot com, our company website, and you’ll find that’s more treasure troves there.

Bill Sherman Thank you.

Morag Barrett If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the RTL newsletter. Each month, we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website, and choose Join our newsletter. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening, and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.


Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

This Post Has One Comment

  1. thank you for such a fun and engaging conversation. I enjoyed meeting with you.

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