Examples of strong partnerships are plentiful including Apple’s late Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin and HP’s Bill Hewlett and David Packard. Similarly, strong partnerships are often behind successful politicians. Examples include Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Barack and Michelle Obama, Theresa May and her husband Philip, and new French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife and unofficial aide, Brigitte.
So how can you pick the right partner and ensure you effectively manage the relationship to accelerate your success as well as theirs?
Ensure your vision and values are broadly aligned
The first step is to ensure you choose someone who shares a passion for your vision and aspirations. This is crucial as it is the glue that will keep you together. In business this is vital as you will soon fall out if your picture of success is not aligned with that of your partner.
You should also share similar values and agree how this will guide decision-making and the way you run the business. If you are the type of person who values hard work and long hours, but your partner prefers a 9-5 role with a strong focus on work-life balance, it is unlikely the relationship will last, as resentment and feelings of unfairness will quickly undermine the relationship.
Strong partnerships spawn from having complementary strengths
Look for someone who has different strengths and skills to complement your own. They should possess functional, cognitive and personal strengths and skills in areas where you are weaker. A good example of this was the excellent “hacker”–”hustler” combination of Wozniak and Jobs when they co-founded Apple.
Too many people make the mistake of partnering with people who are too similar to them. Although this might appear compelling at the outset, this lack of difference will soon become a liability, as you will end up stepping on each other’s toes and build a lopsided company with gaps in skills and strengths. So, if you are a big picture ideas person, look for someone who is a strong implementer to execute tasks effectively.
In strong partnerships, differences in strengths and skills can similarly produce powerful outcomes, as we see with Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte Trogneux. Her background as a drama teacher has clearly been hugely instrumental in helping a more introverted Macron, editing his speeches and providing guidance on his stage presence for years.
Agreeing clear expectations before entering into a business partnership is imperative to ensure there is clarity around the day-to-day running of the business including decision-making, communication, allocation of responsibilities and dealing with any disagreement. Once agreed, it is important to have regular check-ins to monitor the expectations, ask each other:
1) Are the expectations clear – to us and our employees?
2) How well do the expectations support the purpose and goals of the organisation?
3) Are there any points of disagreement and tension that need to be resolved?
4) Is the partnership balanced in terms of input and workload?
Personal partnerships also require clear, agreed expectations. Too many couples end up divorced because of misaligned expectations. For example, the husband of a high-powered executive may expect to pursue his own career, but she expects him to be a stay-home dad. Expectations can and do change as life circumstances change so it is important for partners to have ongoing discussions about each other’s expectations.
Share learning and feedback
Partners should be open and honest with one another from the get-go, including providing constructive feedback to each other to support learning and growth. To ensure this happens, set aside sufficient time to share learnings and feedback at regular intervals. Areas to discuss include:
What you each do well and how this helps the business and each other, what you could do differently and what can you stop doing altogether.
To ensure the relationship remains strong and valuable, it is important to remind your partner how much you value their strengths and contribution, providing specific examples of when they’ve been at their best.
Strong partnership examples are those where milestones and successes are celebrated on a regular basis. This fuels positive emotions and better results, creating a virtuous cycle of success, teamwork and trust. Of course, it is also important to thank your spouse or partner for their support, especially during tough times requiring you to spend more time away from home than usual.
Know when to part
Good business partners know when it is time to go their separate ways. This can occur for a number of reasons. Such as when the partnership is no longer creating value for the business, when it becomes energy draining rather than fulfilling, personal reasons or the pursuit of other ventures. It is important to try, wherever possible, to ensure this divorce is done as amicably as possible to ensure a smoother transition.
Many co-founders spend more time with their partner than they do with their spouse. Like marriages or long-term relationships, business partnerships can be incredibly rewarding and create significant value for both partners as well as the company’s employees and customers. Therefore choosing the right partner is imperative if you want to enjoy the journey as well as the rewards.
James Brook is joint founder and MD of Strengths Partnership
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