US Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has scored a significant coup in the ‘strange bedfellows’ league by striking up an amicable relationship with his bête noire, President Donald Trump.

The opposed political figures – together with House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi – dined on the evening of 13 September, with early reports of the meeting suggesting that the three had come to a verbal agreement on how to manage Trump’s planned cancellation of the DACA programme: a Democrat-backed initiative that had offered a lifeline to undocumented child migrants.

Unwittingly caught on a live microphone, Schumer said of the dinner, “He likes us. He likes me, anyway.” More crucially, though, he said that he had offered the controversial President some advice: “Here’s what I told him: ‘Mr President, you are much better off sometimes stepping right and sometimes step left. [If] you have to step just in one direction, you’re boxed.”

It is a rare entente cordiale for these major figures in the US political arena, who have been fiercely critical of each other’s positions in the run up to – and ever since – the shock election result of last November. It also provides evidence of how important it is for competitors in any high-profile field to bury hatchets, get around tables and feed off each other’s knowledge and experience.

How can leaders benefit from the insights of competitive rivals – and how can they go about breaking the ice to talk to them in the first place?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Wisdom is very much what we’re talking about here, and respect for others who are doing similar things to you. Importantly, wisdom isn’t a zero-sum asset: if you’re wise, it doesn’t mean that someone else in your orbit is less wise. And you may not know all there is to know. So if there are rival figures in your industry who you respect, and they’re chalking up impressive achievements, then you not merely can, but should, learn from them. It’s a huge improvement on the damaging tendency that some leaders have to create a ‘Them and Us’ mentality between themselves and their rivals.”

Cooper adds: “Examine what the competitors that you admire are doing, learn from them and understand that there is room for many voices in your marketplace. But perhaps more importantly, also understand that those voices can be stronger when they are resonating together. As business, politics and specific markets become ever more complex and nuanced, the only real solution through that dense undergrowth of challenges is collaboration. And collaboration must be built on mutual respect and trust.

“Don’t wait for the other person to make the first move. A cordial message and invitation to exchange ideas could change the course of your organisation.”

For further ideas on network building, check out these learning resources from the Institute

Image of Chuck Schumer courtesy of Albert H Teich, via Shutterstock