Have you ever realized that you are not as good at something as you thought you were? I have. And being a business owner and entrepreneur makes this a fairly common occurrence. This is one of my favorite aspects of being an entrepreneur- my shortcomings are frequently brought to light. I guess you could say that I am getting good at realizing what I am not good at.
Glass half-full. Am I right?
Shortly after starting my first business, I had an impactful experience discovering an important area where I was coming up short. While sitting at my desk working on a project, the thought occurred to me: “I am not as great of a business partner as I thought.” Realizations such as this one are always tough to accept and the first stage is usually denial. But this one, this one, got me good. After thinking about it for a while, I came to terms with the fact that I only had one option- I had to be better.
My partners will tell you that I’m not perfect. And they are certainly right. However, throughout the process of becoming a better business partner (emphasis on process), I have learned a few things that are worth sharing. And while the process is not always enjoyable, you will definitely be rewarded for becoming a better partner.
Through this process, that will continue as long as I am building businesses, I discovered that as I deliberately work on my partnerships, focus on what I bring to the table, and remember that my partner in any given deal is more important than the company or deal itself, I have seen significant personal, relational, financial and professional growth.
Let’s look more closely at these three keys to becoming a better business partner.
- Work on the relationship
I always say that partnerships are a lot like marriages. And, like a marriage, when a partnership first begins, it seems like nothing can go wrong- like you are a match made in heaven. After the proverbial honeymoon, however, one quickly realizes that their partner is imperfect. And while there may be an initial moment of shock, this is completely normal. At some point, the question needs to change from “is this partner a great fit for me?” to “are my partner and I willing to work it out when things get difficult?”
Being (or becoming) the type of partner that works on a partnership, figures things out, doesn’t give up and looks out for the other (see #3 below), is the MOST IMPORTANT attribute of a business partner. Most often people look for partners that have certain skills or bring certain abilities to the table. While finding a talented partner is very important, it is significantly less important than finding a partner who will work things out with you, work on the partnership, and not give up.
And the best way to find, or help another develop into a partner that is willing to work on the partnership is to lead by example. You have to be THAT type of partner first before you can attract or recruit one that is similarly tenacious.
- Focus on what YOU bring to table
Many, if not most, partnership disagreements involve the issue of one partner not feeling like the other partner is “pulling his weight” or bringing enough to the partnership. Studies show that it is natural for one to believe that she contributes more to an organization or relationship than she actually does. This concept is known as illusory superiority.
Thus, because of illusory superiority, your partner is already at a disadvantage because you are going to naturally see your contributions as more significant than hers (the reverse of this is also true). In order to remedy this, a seasoned partner is going to continue to look at himself and question whether he is adding enough to the partnership. An important takeaway is to push credit outward and pull criticism inward. By the way, this is good marriage advice also.
This is not to say that partners should not have candid discussions with each other about their performance and respective contributions. In fact, partners that offer the benefit of the doubt are more likely to have genuine discussions about ways to improve. Furthermore, one who feels like his partner is coming from a place of sincerity, as opposed to one who is constantly saying they contribute more to the partnership, is going to be more receptive to the feedback and thus, more likely to change.
- Remember: Your partner is more important than your company
A significant amount of business owners are type A, aggressive, confrontational individuals. In most cases that is a good thing. You are not afraid of a challenge. You will not back down when threatened. You take things head on that would intimate a lot of others.
This makes sense. You need to be tough and tenacious to survive in business. But when it comes to your relationships, especially with your partner, sometimes backing down will lead to the best possible outcome. This is true even if you are giving in when you are certain the decision will not benefit the company. In the end, your partnership is more important than your company. Trust me, I am surprised those words just came out, but they are true. “YOUR PARTNERSHIP IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR COMPANY.” Don’t let a disagreement over strategy, money, or personnel determine how you treat your partner.
The reason that your partner must come first is because in order for a company to be successful, continue to scale, and have a great culture, the partners must be on good terms. When partners are not on good terms, the company will suffer and, if the issue is not addressed (by either making amends in the relationship or one partner leaving the company) the company will ultimately fail. There really is no alternative. Put this in the context of a marriage. If the spouses cannot get along, the family suffers. The reality is sad, but true.
Ultimately, the best way to attract and help others become a good partner is to become a high-level partner yourself. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to recruit or retain talent that is significantly above our own status. Thus, to become the type of partner you wish to work with, you must be willing to work on your relationship, focus on what you bring to the table and remember that your partner is more important than your company.