Power struggles can arise in any relationship and in any environment. When it comes to running a business with a co-founder, power struggles can range from choosing a carpet for the new office to making decisions about selling the company. Equipping yourself with ways to manage power struggles is critical to avoid negatively impacting your business and your employees.
Having run a business with a co-founder for close to a decade now, I’ve learned that you need to go back to the basics to successfully overcome power struggles. Here are four tips that helped me overcome them — from the simplest to the most complex.
One of the biggest misconceptions that business owners have is the belief that every decision will be made in partnership. While equity is important when dealing with business matters, it’s not always the most efficient way to make decisions. A few years into my own business, I realized that joint decisions are the ideal and not the norm. However, decisions still have to be made.
Rather than thinking every decision will be made in joint agreement, decide early on who will be responsible for running different parts of the business. In my case, I found that running operations and leading innovation was my strength, leaving financials and the books to my co-founder. This allowed us to be accountable to each other for these areas and make the best decisions.
By defining roles, you create a framework that allows each party to exercise power. Leverage each of your strengths and decide who will be responsible for making decisions about different aspects of the business. This way, when a power struggle arises, the final word rests with the co-founder responsible for that area of the business.
More often than not, a power struggle is kindled by misunderstandings. Rather than assuming your co-founder understands your rationale, make it clear to them. As an avid systems guy, I’m always looking for technology to enhance, automate or simplify our day-to-day duties. My co-founder and I had a big debate over switching our customer communications to a customer support software system. However, as I demonstrated the benefits from both the employee and customer side — from the first contact to resolution — my partner warmed up to the idea. We’ve since had tremendous success with the new streamlined system.
By visualizing what the decision really means, your co-founder will be more open to listening and much more comfortable with the final decision. When painting a picture of the decision, think both short term and long term. Seeing how your decision will impact the business can help your partner warm up to the idea. It can also help you discover things you may not have considered before.
Don’t Rush It
Sometimes the hardest thing in business is to take it slow. If possible, don’t rush the decision-making process. If you and your co-founder are not seeing eye to eye, rushing will only increase the tension. Instead, set a timeframe to review the decision individually and agree to come back to the issue later.
For example, after many years focused strictly on a service model, I wanted to introduce software into our model to streamline our internal processes and provide customers with a more transparent system. But software development is expensive, and my partner was opposed to diverting our attention and finances. After lengthy deliberations and research on our own, we came back a few years later and realized that this slight change would benefit us on many facets: operational, servicing, sales, financial and more. It might have taken a few years to come to this conclusion, but it was worth waiting.
Allowing for time in between can de-escalate the struggle and help both of you give the decision ample attention.
When all else fails, reach out to a trusted advisor, be it a friend, a coach or a family member. Having an impartial party weigh in on both of your arguments can add clarity. That third set of eyes can help you see beyond just being right. They can identify issues that may have been blown out of proportion and give you a fresh perspective.
My co-founder and I don’t always agree on how to plan for growth. When setting our annual goals, we were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to which services we should focus on. After countless discussions, we decided that we would not come to an agreement on our own. We presented the challenge to our business coach and were surprised at how much clearer everything seemed once someone else gave us their perspective.
Being in the business can sometimes cloud your own decision-making. When seeking counsel, be sure to agree on accepting the outcome ahead of time to avoid further problems.
Keep Your Eyes on the Business
Whenever you find yourself frustrated that your co-founder doesn’t see things the way you do, take a step back and make sure you’re not fueling a power struggle. Early on, identify a way to deal with issues that might come up. And as a last piece of advice, be sure to focus on the business. Don’t lose sight of what’s best for your business just because you want to come out on top.