In their excellent book, “Leadership on the Line” Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, point out the crucial difference between confidants and allies.

Allies cross boundaries and loyalties to help you for specific causes and reasons, but for that very reason, they can’t be true confidants. You see, someday they may have to stay with the party or person to whom they are primarily loyal.

Confidants have no such conflict of interest.  Because they are not connected to your organization’s (work, family, club) politics they are not under any pressure to take a stand away from you with their more primary affiliation.

Allies are great to help you work with varying groups and factions for the very reason that they have other loyalties.  That’s good when it’s understood.   To mistake an ally for a confidant, or to try and turn an ally into a confidant is a recipe for trouble.

Confidants are great because you can speak freely, spontaneously, and safely with them without concern for repercussions.  They are not connected to any conflicting loyalties simply because they are outside your organizational circle.

If we try to make an ally a confident we may find ourselves feeling shocked and betrayed one day.  We may not realize that the problem was more with our lack of discernment than with the ally’s normal loyalty to their own primary affiliations.

Knowing the difference between allies and confidants can save a lot of confusion, disappointment, and pain.  Have both, just know the difference.