Do you find it as disappointing as I do when you hear that a company’s cofounders have gone their separate ways?
This is especially true when the leadership has put in sweat equity and gotten through the hard stuff: pooling resources, boot-strapping, finding the right funding via investors or loans, hiring and training employees, building a board of directors, and making the company profitable. However sad, these separations within leadership happen all the time. And like a familial divorce- it can be traumatizing for all parties when a company’s foundation crumbles.
So why does it happen so often? Why are some company founders together for decades while others split a year after deciding to work together? I recently experienced a potential rift within my company’s leadership that led me to ask myself this question. It made me think about the subject seriously- because the disagreement I witnessed had the potential to divide the leadership within my company with enduring effects.
While I’m a novice when it comes to forming and maintaining long lasting business partnerships, I do have some experience from what I have been through in the past 5 years that I would like to share with you. So far, this is what I have learned about salvaging relationships within a company’s leadership.
Choose To Work With People You Genuinely Like (And Trust)
I’ve gone against my gut in the past- choosing to work with individuals due to their credentials or talent who gave me a bad vibe, and I’ve regretted it every time. It’s easier to solve disputes within leadership when you work with people you really like, because you can always fall back on that compatibility when issues arise. For this reason, I place ‘vibe’ at almost an equal footing as experience when selecting talent, and I don’t tolerate bad ‘vibes’ within my organization. When I experience them, I root them out and discuss them in an effort to fix the situation. Bad vibes can kill relationships and companies.
Define Your Level Of Commitment, Then Stick To It
Encountering non-committal people is the worst, especially in business. It takes real integrity to look honestly at a business opportunity, assess what your dedication to it can be, and stick steadfastly to that commitment. I also think gaining this kind of integrity is something that comes with experience. I personally have had ‘eyes that were bigger than my stomach’, when I took on too much work in relation to the actual time I could devote to executing those projects. In time, you realize that mastering this balance is the reason Warren Buffett famously said, ‘The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.’” This is particularly true for executives that have other obligations like familial commitments, a full-time job outside the startup or someone who is balancing involvement in numerous organizations/ startups.
Put It In Writing
You may be surprised how often founding team members work together for extensive periods of time without any legal documentation of the partnership in writing. Putting contracts in place is always at the top of my list when it comes to business deals. It eliminates ambiguity and makes sure you think of everything that could possibly go wrong within the partnership – assuring you are on the same page before going into business together. A good contractual exercise will make you to talk through all the worst-case scenarios with each other- creating a ’disaster plan’ if any of these situations arise.
Keep It Professional
We all have personal issues to attend to, but I’ve found that infusing these into your business relationships just confuses an already complex situation. With experience, I’ve learned that I agree with Kelly Cutrone when she said, If You Have To Cry, Go Outside. Extreme professionalism is required in order for businesses to thrive. Personal effects need to be filed away in a different folder and in best case scenarios should not effect your business, unless family concerns are the reason that you need to exit the organization or take a period of time off. Personal issues should not be a continual subject of discussion or bargaining tool within healthy business partnerships.
This is a lesson that I’ve been trying to perfect for the past few years as I mature. When an email, text, or comment is presented to you that triggers a defensive or aggressive reaction- just don’t. Don’t react to it. You don’t have to fire off emails back and forth in order to prove a point. Get all the facts before jumping to conclusions. Don’t assume you know what someone else means if there is ambiguity in their communication. Take the time to put space between receiving information and replying due to the fact that you have already formed conclusions about what the other person really means. If all else fails get on the phone- its much easier to clear up miscommunications via a phone call, as we all know tone and intention can be easily misconstrued via digital communication.
Drop Your Ego
Don’t get me wrong, having some amount of ego is healthy as it allows you to recognize and respect your own boundaries in any given situation. However, exhibiting too much ego is when the problems arise. In my personal experience, this can be especially true after leadership has built a successful or even wildly successful company. I’ve witnessed an executive’s ego become out of control due to their track record of success, and they then became a know-it-all, refusing to meet team members and support staff half way, taking on a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude. Ditch the ego and remain humble as you ascend towards success. The bi-product of humility in the face of acheivement is a reputation built on respect and admiration from your team members and beyond.
Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff
Seriously, just let it go. Whatever small issue your teammate is doing today to drive you crazy, just get over it and let it go. Focus on the goal you are working to achieve: building your business. I often chant to myself ‘this too will pass’ as I attempt to rationalize the fact that one team member is perpetually late while another may have poor communication skills. I tell myself that in two years time we could have a million dollar nest egg if we learn to temper our reactions to one another. The business needs to be at the forefront of your priorities- not being right. Whatever the issue is, decide if it even needs to be voiced or if you can let it go. Chances are- 90% of the time, you can just let it go. The majority of partnerships are temporary and if you focus on making money together and the integrity of your company, most of the other things can be put to the side.
Know When To Walk Away
If it gets to the point where too much of your time together is spent discussing issues within the partnership and not executing on the business, it might be time to walk away. It’s detrimental and distracting to sacrifice time that can be allocated on business execution by building frustration and scattering energy dealing with internal issues. Leadership needs to know how to put the business and its needs first. In my opinion, this is a non-negotiable skill.
If the time arises in your company where you or a valued team member has to leave the organization, you are allowed to feel sad about it. However, I advise maintaining an overall objective view of the situation. Remember that at the end of the day, your commitment is to the business and pushing it forward. Look at the situation and see what you can learn and implement the next time around to become a better leader. Do whatever you can to remain on amicable terms. You may decide to work together again at a later time or in a different capacity.
By Autumn Adeigbo
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