The keys to partnership are not well documented. Since partnership has changed my life, my desire is to understand it as fully as possible. With this post, it’s my intent to lay out five keys that create strong, healthy partnerships. My focus for this article is a business partnership, but I think these keys overlap with other types of partnerships as well.
Partnerships do not come cheap. Your investment will be significant. I’m reminded of Peter when he tells Jesus, “We have left everything for you.” (Mark 10:28). Partnerships require significant sacrifice and mammoth maturity. Your relationship skills will stretch to their limits.
Many believe partnership should be avoided. Dave Ramsey says, “Partnerships rarely work.” So why make the effort? First, I believe they are Biblical. God himself has a partnership — the three in one. Second, all of my best work has happened through partnerships. And last, partnership has driven me to maturity. Partnerships have become a must for my every pursuit.
Partnerships are like teams except partnership offers ownership to each person, and this quality of ownership creates a dynamic that isn’t found in other business relationships. The five keys are trust, candor, strengths, accountability, and equity. Without all five, a partnership will fail.
Trust creates the necessary space for a partnership to exist. You must trust that your partner is competent, honest, able, flexible, open to change, and willing to speak boldly into your life. This trust is built on both past experiences and future expectations. Every minute you spend wondering and worrying about your partner works against your partnership’s performance.
Trust is your gift to them based on your belief in their innate value. If you have trouble believing in people, you won’t make a great partner. Partners greet each other with open hands. They don’t hang on to anything or protect certain elements from their partners; transparency is not optional. With a partnership mindset, you may be disappointed by certain actions of your partners, but you are secure in believing that all obstacles can be overcome.
In a partnership, Trust must be Abundant. I might go as far as to say that trust must be credited. The amount of trust needed to fuel a partnership is beyond what you have available. You need to have a mindset of trust rather than insist on trust being built over time. Don’t fret. Don’t second guess. Don’t insert yourself. If you can’t conjure trust for a partner, then you have either picked the wrong partner or you lack the ability to trust at the deepest levels.
Freedom of action results from Abundant Trust. You should act as if you are trusted. Don’t waste your partner’s trust. Take initiative based on the core nature of your partnership. Once direction is set, don’t hesitate to move the partnership’s goals forward. This is what it means to be a partner.
Candor is the communication tool that brings focus to the partnership’s effort. In a relationship founded on trust and built up by belief in your partner’s value, candor creates the forge for powerful vision and excellent performance. Kindness is always the conduit to healthy candor. Your partner knows that you are sharing heavy truth because they believe you can handle it. Candor comes from trust.
Candor should not speak to a person’s value. It should speak to excellence and execution. Your goal is for your partner to become more efficient and grow in their ability. Candor is not meant to be blunt. In fact, it should have a sharp edge and be clear about the changes that will lead to improvement.
The same mouth that delivers candor must also be full of encouragement and affirmation. As Mary Poppins said, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Encouragement is best when it is relevant, timely, and specific, yet it should not be overdone. When I am candid with my partners, I often predicate the statement with positive statements about our purpose and their efforts to achieve it.
You should not only learn to give candor but also learn to receive it. If candor triggers insecurity, you will need to do some personal work. Partnership uncovered a trigger for me. I found that when I was challenged too strongly, I would feel unsafe and hurt. The cure for this is to work through unhealthy attachments and seek to become self-differentiated.
A partnership should prove that you are better together than apart. If this isn’t abundantly clear, then you need a healthier partnership. Strengths are innate. You are hard-wired early in life. Some people are better with relationships. Others are better with ideas. Some people excel at strategy and others at action. The best partnerships include lots of various strengths.
Strengths overlap and intertwine. A partnership should never assume that only one partner has any one strength. Partners overlay their strengths upon each other to create an even stronger effort. One person should never defer solely to the other because one is “stronger” than the other. Strengths are additive.
In a partnership, Strengths should be Diverse. You don’t want yourself as a partner. When God created Eve as a partner for Adam, He made her different than him. A partner must be diverse, although partners who are too diverse might find it difficult to trust each other. You need a partner who complements your strengths.
The most difficult part of using your strength may be letting your partner guide your strength. You’ve had this strength your whole life. You feel like you don’t need any help, yet your partner is there with a diverse perspective and can likely increase your strength by a significant factor. Don’t push your partner aside just because you feel like this is an area where you don’t need a partner.
A partnership must have a mechanism that ensures each partner is delivering their best. Any veil that obscures the actions of a partner must be removed. There can be no place to hide. Various mechanisms exist for accountability, but the basic idea is that planned actions are assigned to one person and the planned actions are later reviewed for completion.
Accountability is one aspect of motivation. We all love to be inspired by the carrot, but sometimes we need the threat of the stick. If a person has a strong sense of responsibility, they don’t necessarily need an actual penalty. They just need the knowledge that their work will be inspected. All plans break down when there is no accountability.
I’ve added the word Heavy to describe the Accountability necessary in a partnership. Phrases like “No problem” or “That’s ok” should be avoided. A Heavy Accountability brings up some valuable questions: Am I the right person for this task? Who could help me with this task? How important is this task? The Heaviness of Accountability isn’t a weight that causes a person to drown. The Heaviness is a force that makes sure the plans of the partnership move steadily forward.
You should submit yourself to the yoke of accountability. This brings a needed discipline to your work. Accountability requires a humbleness on our path to maturity and discipline.
Finally, we return to the issue of ownership. Each partner makes a similar investment and receives a similar return. The investments and returns do not have to be equal, but they must be fair. Equity does not mean that the partnership does not have a hierarchy. One partner can be senior to another and still be called a partnership.
Equity creates a culture where the performance of your partner directly affects your benefits. Many potential partners want their reward to be solely reflected by their ability. While this seems counter-intuitive, Equity changes the nature of the relationship. You are not only looking out for your own reward; you now benefit from creating opportunities for your partner to flourish as well.
If there is Substantial Equity, a culture of oneness will surface. We were created for dependence, and yet it is often our greatest fear. Most people in the United States don’t like to rely on another. Certainly, if a partnership lasts long enough, one of the partners will need to be carried. Solomon wrote, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” A partnership insures stability.
Most people don’t mind helping another. The problem starts when you require the help. Partnerships rely on one’s ability to both receive and appreciate the help of another. This is exemplified in the section on Diverse Strengths, and hopefully, I will write a follow-up blog on collaboration, where an idea ceases to be one or the others, and instead becomes property of the partnership.
The amount of maturity, grace, and discipline required for a great partnership may dissuade people from this powerful relationship. Yet, this is what we were designed to do. Jesus did not come only to save us from the despairs of hell, but to call us as partners in His redeeming work. Becoming healthy partners is not just the forming of a powerful relationship, it is the work of God’s Kingdom in the world.
A threshold of maturity must be achieved before a partnership can begin. After that, constant work molds us into healthy partners. We will never fully achieve this level of healthiness, at least not in this world, but we know what we must aspire to become. I’ll leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul as expressed through the translation of Eugene Peterson:
He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. – Ephesians 4:16 (The Message)