Posted by: samramsey97 | March 31, 2019

From Adversaries to Allies

Several weeks ago, Marge came into our classroom and shared her story of how she turned an adversary into an ally. Since then, I have become increasingly intrigued by this concept, as it is not something that I have heard as a strategy for alliance building within the workplace. Furthermore, when Dr. Shollen brought this concept up again in a subsequent class,  I struggled to find an example from my life where I would be willing or able to approach an adversary of mine and turn them into an ally. The thought alone makes me immediately run through all of the costs and benefits of tackling such a hurdle – is it worth my time? What if they turned around to sabotage me? Would I come off as ingenuine for trying to change the current relationships or status quo?

In 2014, the New York Times published an article titled “Portraits of Reconciliation,” that showcased instances after the Rwandan genocide where the Hutu perpetrator was granted pardon by the Tutsi survivor of his crime. In these portraits, female Tutsi survivors are seen standing side by side next to the Hutu men who murdered the woman’s husband, children, or siblings. The people in these photos were part of a national reconciliation effort that counseled small groups of Hutus and Tutsis over many months, culminating in the perpetrator’s formal request for forgiveness. While different degrees of forgiveness were granted, the testimonials provided highlight the emotional strength required to grant forgiveness. Below are some quotes from survivor testimonials:

  • “He and a group of other offenders who had been in prison helped me build a house with a covered roof. I was afraid of him — now I have granted him pardon.”
  • “Now, if I cry for help, he comes to rescue me. When I face any issue, I call him.”
  • “Before, when I had not yet granted him pardon, he could not come close to me. I treated him like my enemy. But now, I would rather treat him like my own child.”

These excerpts serve as a strong example of the power of forgiveness. In some instances, following the reconciliation process, these individuals are able to form a mutually beneficial alliance where they are able to assist each other through hardships and day-to-day struggles. This concept of alliance building can be easily applied to leadership situations, as we have discussed in class. Strategic leaders know that when individuals share information and work together, the group is able to perform more effectively as a unit. Additionally, strategic alliances can serve as important tools for professional advancement and workplace unity.

Upon hearing about Marge’s experiences with turning adversaries into allies, I was cautious about the idea, due to the potential ramifications of associating with and adversary. However, the portraits shown in the New York Times showcase how forgiveness and alliance-building can have a positive affect on both parties involved. Have you ever turned an adversary into an ally? Do you think you would have been able to forgive the Hutu perpetrators in this case? What are the costs and benefits of turning adversaries into allies?


  1. After reading this I automatically thought of the phrase, “keep you friends close, but your enemies closer.” This change in thinking about turning adversaries into allies is a much healthier approach – as I interpret the above statement as keeping your enemies close as to make sure they will not take advantage of you / plan anything that will lead to your demise. The article you found about the Tutsi survivors being able to forgive such horrendous crimes really speaks to the potential humanity has to overcome hardships and focus on reuniting people of various backgrounds. If the Tutsi people could forgive and work past the atrocities of the Hutus, it seems that everyone should be able to work out conflicts.
    I think a key aspect of turning adversaries into allies is communication. The Hutus and Tutsi’s worked together to improve their livelihood (by erecting houses) and although this may not be the proper way to fix a broken relationship in the workforce, it emphasizes the importance of team building activities and general counseling. If you do not openly communicate with your adversary, then I see little hope in becoming allies.
    As leaders, the ability to communicate and relate to subordinates is crucial, as all effective leadership theories emphasize this collaborative style. Even dominating leaders who are authoritative still relate to their followers through a common goal. In LDSP 386 – Values Leadership, we discussed that regardless of the type of leader, if a group has a central belief and value system, then it is much easier to be cohesive.
    There are definitely a lot of ramifications that may occur if you were to attempt to turn an adversary into an ally, such as being “tricked” or manipulated by the adversary. In terms of the Hutus and Tutsi’s, I personally do not think I could ever forgive someone for murdering my family. Yet in the workplace, the obstacles that people need to overcome are often not as severe as dealing with murder.
    A final thought on turning adversaries into allies is that I am reminded of political leaders around the world. Many nations disagree with other countries way of life or the other nation’s leader, but so often presidents and prime ministers will put these differences behind them and meet in order to discuss what they believe will be the best for their people, and the world. One example would be the Geneva Conference in 1954, where world leaders came together to settle disputes about the Korean War. I believe one of the most important traits a leader can have is to be able to distance themselves from petty and/or valid disagreements in exchange for the betterment of society.

  2. Like you Sam, I do not know if there has ever been a time in my life where I have turned an adversary into an ally. That being said, I do believe it is a good strategy. Right now we are young, we have professors, friends, and enemies a lot of which we will never see after college. This means that it may not be advantageous for us to make allies out of our adversary’s. It does take a lot of time and a lot of effort to do this. Unless they are somebody that you know will be in your life forever it does not make sense right now to do this. As a leader in your career 10-15 years down the road, this becomes extremely advantageous. You have to see that person everyday, you have to lead that person everyday. Keeping them an enemy would be more effort in the long run for you rather than putting in a lot of effort in the short run in order to turn them into an ally. The cost of this is your time and energy. The benefit is that you create an ally in a work environment that is probably very competitive and cutthroat (most of them are these days). In addition, that enemy probably has followers that they can now convince to come onto your side. In the case of the Hutu’s and the Tutsi’s, I do believe that this should have happened. It did not happen over night but these are groups of people that have to live side by side for a long, long time. Not only would the current generation be affected the next generations would also be affected. Without giving forgiveness and turning enemies into allies, the rebuilding of Rwanda could have never begun. This strategy is vitally important in leadership positions today. It becomes more important as you get older and can be a tool that leaders use to gain steadfast and strong followers.

  3. I felt the same way about this concept of turning an adversary into an ally – I had never really considered it because I had always thought that it would be too difficult to change a person’s mind about such a matter. While alliance building is an important factor in gaining grounds for leadership roles, people typically do not think to form these alliances with people that they consider enemies, for a wide variety of reasons like we discussed in class. I personally don’t think that I have had any experience with this, but it could just be preconceived ideas of people that prevent me from forming alliances with them – an issue that many people may have. The idea of turning an enemy into a friend is definitely a scary thought and the fact that Marge was able to do it and talk about it so easily is really impressive!

  4. Reading about the testimonies of women who were survivors of the Rwandan genocide was extremely moving. The strength and courage these women have translates into kindness and forgiveness for their abusers, something I don’t think I could ever do. I admire people who forgive those who have wronged them in the worst way possible. Like many of our classmates, I struggled to see an example in my own life of turning an adversary into an ally. Although I am a very loyal person and believe that everyone deserves a second chance, I also tend to hold grudges. I think that this personal barrier would be an issue if I ever tried to turn an adversary into an ally. However, I don’t think it is impossible. The unknown is extremely frightening to me, but by avoiding the potential benefits of “keeping your friends close but your enemies closer”, I am just making an excuse for myself. The next time I see an opportunity of turning an adversary into an ally, I will give it a chance. Even though the thought of being vulnerable towards someone I feel uncomfortable around is frightening, if I never take the chance, I will never know the other opportunities that may arise from that decision.

  5. I’m not sure I have ever turned an adversary into an ally mostly because I don’t think I’ve made many adversaries in my life, which is good. But a lot of the time people are quick to judge, criticize, hurt and insult people as soon as something goes wrong, or someone does not agree with them or they have a different point of view that rejects our own. And this hateful or aggressive reaction does no one good. It only creates more hatefulness and does not solve any problems. I truly believe the world can be a better place when people put aside their differences and accept each other to work together. To do this, one must not be quick to hate or judge, but instead accept. And in worse times, forgive. I love how you talk about the power of forgiveness because it is a power we often times forget and it can be such a powerful notion. It is always good to keep more allies than adversaries, but if we can eliminate the adversaries we have by spreading peace and forgiveness, the better off we can be. But I think part of that comes with having to trust other people. I understand your hesitation with trying to turn adversaries into allies, but I think a big reason for that is because we don’t inherently trust people we don’t like. And trust, I agree, is something that must be earned. And definitely can be earned over time if you allow the adversary the chance to earn it or not.

  6. Wow, that was a really neat and moving portrait series of the Hutu and Tutsi people. Something that I think is really important in alliance building is that is allows people to understand each other. There are so many times that we may misjudge someone or have the wrong impression of someone just because wee don’t understand their intentions. In terms of the Rwanda Genocide, I’m sure the Tutsi people do not agree with what the Hutu men did however after talking and counseling, I’m sure they were able to better understand the reasoning behind what they did. This is applicable I think to almost every other aspect in life. We may be talking to a friend, the friend may say something to us that offends us or rubs us the wrong way, but if that friend actually cares about you chances are that their intentions in saying what they did were different than what you mind jumped to. This is also applicable in the work place or in a leading situation. As a leader you may not understand why your followers act or behave in the certain way. You may not understand different stances they take on issues or the priorities they value. Instead of judging the person or getting mad or frustrated, it’s important to take the time to form the alliance with them and asking them about their intentions behind what they do will help the leader to better lead, understand, and assist the follower. The same goes for the leader. I’m sure there are many times where followers don’t understand why the leader is making the decisions they are along with other things, instead of the follower getting upset about what the leader is doing, if they take the time to understand why they are more likely to respect their choices. I think taking the time to form alliances and understand people and their intentions in very important in leadership.

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