*this post has been updated from it’s original share date, Oct 19, 2018

The best businesses often come out of contrasting leadership styles. For example, one leader may thrive as a visionary dreaming up the next big product to stand out in the industry, while his partner may be a gifted realist that can execute on budgets, goals and deadlines. Aligned these differing leadership styles are a supercharged engine for their business.

Getting Feuding Leadership Styles Back On Track

Unfortunately, contrasting leadership styles can also clash, resulting in confusion among the team, loss in productivity and departing talent. Here are the steps to get a challenging partnership back on track.

Step 1: Agree on the Desirable Outcome

Acknowledge the place you meet. Both parties want what’s best for the business, and, more often than not, see the potential to learn from the other, to be friends even. Starting with what you want from the relationship, agreeing what good looks like, sets up the conversation to be about bringing forward the best in each other, rather than focusing on what isn’t working.

Typically, each one’s picture of the partnership really working well includes benefitting from the differences. We don’t want to be like each other. We want our contrasting styles to add value.

Step 2: Name the Tensions

There is great power in simply speaking your experience out loud, without any attempt to resolve or change it. Investigate the dynamic objectively. Name as many tensions as you can. Feel the pain or humor in each creative tension you identify.

For example, it may be the tension between vision and action or being direct versus subtle or open versus focus or head and heart or speed versus risk.

Chances are you will see how the two of you have constellated some of the classic or archetypical tensions, awkward differences that show up everywhere. The challenge becomes less about the particulars of your situation and more about how mature humans grow to use these classic tensions creatively.

Step 3: Clear the Air

As any partnership becomes more challenging, we often believe that holding back will help avoid the negative impacts of the conflict. We try to promote peace by keeping our distance, to some degree at least, resigning from the partnership, adding distance. It doesn’t work. Irritants become grievances, impacts more passive aggressive, others see and feel it, talk and worry about it, and pretty soon your lack of alignment has become toxic to the whole culture.

A clear-the-air session is where you take turns to speak about a concern with no discussion. The listener simply reflects back what was raised to let the other person know they have been heard. You can download our Clear Communication protocol by clicking here along with the Receiving Communication protocol here.

Without conscious intent, time and distance do not heal. Grievances have no expiration date and avoidance does not lessen the challenge. Likewise, hashing and rehashing who is right and who is wrong gets you nowhere. Listen and reflect. Speak and be heard. Surprisingly, when we acknowledge the other’s experience without trying to change it, we find it easier to relate to them. We may not agree on everything but the air between us is clear.

Step 4: Create a New Structure

Now that you’ve envisioned a positive working relationship, named the tensions and cleared your history, it’s time to create a new dynamic.

I suggest each take a turn at completing the following three sentences:

  • What I want from you is…
  • What you do that makes it hard for me to get this from you is…
  • What I do that makes it hard for you to give me this is… 

Then agree on some actions to change the old habits, to get you each what you want and need going forward. This can include a check in once a day, asking each other a particular question once a week or going on a walk together. Find a solution that fits both personalities and encourages communication.

Seek Help When Help is Needed

You don’t have to do this alone. A trusted confidant can help partners realign and prevent turning a great business down a bad road. Use people you trust to help you stay accountable to your new agreements. If you need expert help, book a free session with me at [email protected] to get started to work through your challenges together.


David Lesser