Reigning the Queendom Together: 10 Strategies for Female Leaders to Collaborate with Minimal Friction
by Leah Wald
The Amazonians were a mythical matriarchy of strong, savage women beholden to no man. I’m not quite an Amazonian myself, but when I work with other women I try to channel that sense of strong sisterhood. As of current, I worked on four ventures with several female partners.
Co-founding a company with another woman, I set weekly meetings to ensure of our success; both as friends and as partners. My mission was to build on what was working while improving and developing our collaboration and personal connection. Pure genius, I thought.
By communicating better, I thought we could move faster toward our shared goals and speak the same strategic message. But not everyone thinks the way I do. You can’t program people like robots, and you can’t organize their lives for them like they were your subjects.
For my first foray into business, I partnered with two other women to build a sexual health clinic in California. Arguments and miscommunication compelled one of my partners to leave after less than two months, and we haven’t spoken since.
The other female founder and I had a big problem with vision alignment. I wanted to build a business, big, strong, robust, grandiose. I envisioned creating a sustainable and completely free and fully-operational sexual health clinic for our entire consortium of colleges as well as the neighboring Los Angeles Latino community.
Obviously, my goals were unrealistic. But at 18, I wouldn’t budge; I was a dreamer.
My partner wanted to create a safe-space to talk about sexual health issues. She had been working at an incredibly powerful clinic in Berkeley, California and wanted to implement what she learned at our campus via free sexual education and mentorship, as well as loads of free condoms; she was a doer.
I loved her, she had become my best friend and partner, but despite all that we were doing, we didn’t see eye-to-eye on our vision and it started to show. We started becoming passive aggressive, we stopped eating meals together, and we started talking over each other in our group meetings.
We began with 150+ active volunteers answering to our every beck and need and during the height of our founders battles, it waned to five people who I believe only came to support us as friends. No one wanted to be around us while we were having cat fights.
Between demonstration dildos, thousands of condoms, diagrams of vaginas and cliteracy, and heated discussions with intersex activists, we made it clear that we were on the outs. Our inability to function as friends and partners was negatively affecting our ability to build and, therefore, we both knew we needed to come to an agreement.
We settled on a middle ground, and a smart and doable start to work from: we created a sexual health organization providing young people with free and confidential services. We offered condoms deposited in mailboxes anonymously, trained volunteers in sexual health and public speaking, and provided free rides to Planned Parenthood.
We also offered reimbursement of birth control and STD testing expenses as well as travel to the outlying community to educate people on safer sex practices. I was happy with that, she was happy with that, but our queendom had burned to the ground. It was a true parting of ways. Our partnership and friendship never revived.
How naive I was. I burnt more than a few of my empires to the ground because I didn’t think that real relationships needed to grow organically. But the truth is, they can’t be forced and getting caught up in some platonic ideal ruins the actual possibilities.
That was a tough lesson for me. When you add a business partnership to a friendship, it can mean you do absolutely everything together and it can be hard to make objective business decisions that is separate from how you would react through the lens of friendship.
I recently ran a strategic agency as Co-CEO with another female friend. Morphing from friend to co-founder was important, but a daunting task. We had to connect and fuse our passions and business insights into a greater whole.
I made a rookie mistake right away, micromanaging one of our client engagements. I innately didn’t yet trust that my partner would do a good job, so I tried to do everything. Then, I got frustrated and just passed off to her other work that I didn’t want to do out of petty irritation.
We were out of sync and it was hurting the quality of our work. It didn’t help our friendship either. Finding a balance took a long time, but eventually we started to get out of each other’s way and trust each other more. It’s been almost two years and we now have a great rhythm. I feel immensely privileged to be on a team with her. Some of those early lessons might finally be paying off.
The truth is, particularly with startups, business is extremely personal and therefore emotions run extraordinarily high. With that in mind, is it possible to have a safe space to discuss arising issues in order to ensure that your business and relationship continue to grow, develop and thrive?
After mulling over my own flaws in implementing a successful partnership, I came up with the following list of recommended strategies for teams that fosters personal relationships needed in achieving an infinite possibilities:
- Communicate clearly; speak up when something is bothering you in service of advancing relationships as well as the company’s mission
- Be candid, but empathetic
- Learn eagerly and teach patiently
- Never be passive-aggressive
- Build on what’s working while improving and developing collaborations on both personal and professional levels
- Balance disruption and improvement; innovation and coordination
- Build for the long-term
- Seek consensus in important decision making
- Listen carefully, act decisively
- Design for resilience
The most important lesson learned was that despite my best intentions, you cannot force a successful partnership. There is no successful recipe to follow blindly.
Your best bet is to remain aware of your partners’ feelings, ensure that your roles and responsibilities continually stay in tune according to your own abilities. Also, know at the outset of starting a business with a friend will eventually change the nature of your relationship, one way or another. Own that and embrace the wild turns that it may take you. Maybe you’ll eventually find that Amazon Queen inside.
About the Author
Leah Wald is the co-Founder of Veterati, founder of Naadam Cashmere, economist at The World Bank, VP at Spartan Ventures, and IE Business School Alumna. She has applied social entrepreneurship to help goat herders in Mongolia to first-time business women in India. When not writing, she’s horseback-racing, surfing, smoking cigars, drinking wine, and ranting about her home city Washington, DC. Her blog is EntrepreneurialOrgasms.com.
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