Though I coach co-founders as a team, my primary tool is 1x1 coaching which gives me a unique perspective into who they really ARE. Realizing the gaps between founders’ values and belief systems makes me sometimes amazed teams function.
These gaps, when the occur, are “surfaced” in the form of arguments, disagreements, growing misalignment and tones of friction and frustration that can be avoided if co-founders simply knew each other better.
Knowing each other can work magic
I’ve seen the magic of recognition play out countless times. The moment in which one co-founder gets a chance to glimpse into the subjective inner world of their partner and for the first time truly see who they are and what they believe when they say things like “trust”, “transparency”, “teamwork”, “humility”…
“All this time when you said ‘teamwork’ I thought you meant us doing MORE things together… But now I understand that for you, teamwork is creating space for each of us so we can work alone in a way that frees the other to do more?”
Or “When I say ‘to trust’ I’m talking about giving someone a goal and responsibility and then verifying they are on track… But I now understand that for you when I verify you’re on track, it is a sign that I don’t trust you at all?”
These gaps in how we subjectively define what we value and what we believe is “true” are endless and are the cause of most of the friction between founder’s (and people in general :-)) face.
There are many things you can do as founders to improve your relationships and, as a result, your well-being and chances of success as a team. But the first thing you can start doing today is to simply invest the time and mental energy to know each other better.
The key here is active listening, curiosity, and“unknowing”. Forgetting what you know about your partner and really trying to listen to them as if it is the first time you meet—trying to really get to know them.
Don’t believe me? Try these questions, and you will be surprised how little you know about your co-founder
- How would you define yourself in one sentence?
- How would you define your role in one sentence?
- What makes you wake up excited?
- What makes time fly away when you’re working?
- What are you most proud of?
- What have you overcome to be who you are?
- Who is a person that made you who you are today? How have they shaped you?
- Who are the 3 people you worked with that you value most? What do you value about them?
- What companies do you value most? What do you value about them?
- What is the impact you want to have?
Knowing each other requires “double-clicking”
When you listen try NOT to listen through your own story… don’t assume you know. Instead, be like a curious kid and keep “double-clicking” the words to better understand them…
If your co-founder says “I’m proud of my resilience” don’t assume you know what resilience is just because FOR YOU resilience is the ability to keep going after you fail.
Instead “double-click” the word and try to see it through your co-founder’s eyes… “when you say you’re proud of your resilience what specifically are you proud of?”
… And lean back ready to be surprised because most chances your interpretation of resilience has nothing to do with your co-founder’s …
“Well… when I say resilience I think about that kid that everyone said is stupid because she had ADHD and kept failing at school and now sits in front of you as a CEO… FOR ME to be resilient is to overcome the perception of others and redefine yourself’
Just imagine the next time your co-founder shares an idea with you and you call that idea “stupid”… You never understood why she shuts down in brainstorming sessions in the past. Why when you call an idea “stupid” she becomes aggressive and defends it like it is life or death…
The ROI of knowing
Inveting in knowing our co founders yields immediate return on investment.
Next time your co-founder presents an idea you don’t like you’ll know her enough to adapt yourself. Instead of calling her idea “stupid” you might say “I’m not sure I agree”… and suddenly the same co-founder who used “to ALWAYS fight with me when we brainstormed” is the best brainstorming partner ever.
You also know, when that next PR crisis happens and your co-founder drives you crazy with her indifference to criticism that for her a negative perception of your company isn’t a crisis. For your co-founder criticism it’s an opportunity to show her resilience and grow, to improve and prove everyone wrong. Where you experience crisis she sees opportunity.
So now the discussion would be something like “I know being criticised only drives you but for me external perception of our brand is crucial and I would love to find a way to both protect our brand and at the same time leverage the learning and opportunity to become better”
This is the power of knowing each other! It change our interpretation of reality which automatically change the dynamics with our co-founders.
And the best part is that by opening up so they can know you you get to know yourself :-)
Try it. It the best couple of hours you’ll invest. I promise ❤️