Look around. Some of the most iconic brands of our era come from rock solid partnerships between two people with different worldviews – the Wozniaks and the Jobs, the Hewletts and the Packards, the Davids and the Goliaths. Even some of the most fun marriages I know are between entirely different people with different outlooks, ways of communicating and expressing themselves, and different interests.
What is it about diametrically opposite personalities that make business and world go round?
Perhaps it has something to do with feeding off each other’s strengths and cancelling out the weaknesses, having the ability to see that one person brings innovation, big dreams, and vision, and the other brings prudence, practicality, and execution. In my own work experience, I have noticed that without the balancing effect of an empathetic, people-friendly leader, the shrewd numbers guy can only achieve so much and vice versa.
But making a relationship of opposites, especially at work where you are not exactly in love with or related and married to your business partner, is a lot of hard work. The first rule of thumb, I believe, is respect for each other’s styles, peaceful coexistence, and agreement on the larger vision. You could be chalk and cheese, you may have entirely different styles of solving similar problems, but you do need to agree on the long-term vision for your team or organisation.
It is this respect and long-term agreement on vision that lets good leaders see that each argument, each disagreement stems out of shared goals that are bigger than each party or the moment.
Being able to diversify the organisational roles of you and your business partner is also critical – finance for the financially prudent, UX for the product rock star, hiring and talent development for the people’s person, and so on. It is also important to clearly identify the man or woman with the last word. The responsibility could be shared between partners and differentiated as per business functions or there could be just one person with the final word after the idea and all the arguments have been laid out on the table for all to see. This clarity is essential.
Finally, in times of differences, the ability to continue to see and respect the other person’s individual skills and worldviews, without it making a significant difference to the nature and culture of the organisation is key. This is what will keep the wheels turning when the going gets difficult, as it often does as startups start to grow and multiply, or teams bring in different ideas and diversity. Ask yourself if your relationship with your potential partner is strong enough to weather change. And if things do go downhill, what is the contingency plan? If the answer is a resounding yes and you agree on the bigger picture and contingency plans over the next decade or so, you should be in for a good run.
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