Strategies for Picking Partners

Have you seen Lincoln?

If you haven't seen the movie yet, let me just suggest you do so. As soon as you can. I don't know what your reaction will be (some people I know have fallen asleep, others riveted on the edge of their chair), but I want to encourage you to see it—and to look for more than just the main plot (most of which you likely know by now).

The movie is based on the work of Doris Goodwin, who authored a great book called Team of Rivals. If you didn't know it, three of Lincoln's cabinet members were three of Presidential candidates that lost the Republican nomination to him. Normally, those aren't the guys you would think to pick and put on your cabinet. But he did.

The Problems with Partnerships

You don't know yourself well enough—Do you know what you're best at? I mean, so good that you should never let anyone else do it. If you don't know what your core competency is, how will you know what to pass on to others? Most times, I find that you're doing too much. You're trying to do it all. You'll never succeed if you're doing everything. Figure out what you're best at, focus on that, and look at partnerships to take care of the rest.

You don't know what you need from a partnership—Imagine you find that great person who has energy, a proven track record, and everything you could want in a partner. What do you do? More often than not, I watch you step into partnerships—and often too quickly. Why? Because you've lied to yourself or have moved too quickly. To win at the partnership game you need to be really clear about what success looks like. What do you need from a partnership? If someone offers you leads, but you lose your ability to message effectively, does that really work for you?

You only want partners just like you—Maybe the biggest challenge I've seen regularly is that we get excited about the person we're going to partner with. I know, you're thinking, how is that a bad thing. Well, here's what happens. They're like you. You guys speak the same language. You're brothers from other mothers. Until you're not. What you've done is gotten so excited that you've laid your own assumptions of how you work onto the relationship and only later do you discover you're not as similar as you thought.

The Honest Truth

According to Goodwin (in Team of Rivals), Lincoln had enough confidence in himself to not worry about bringing some top players into his cabinet. I know some people who are the opposite. They have to be the smartest folks on their respective teams. Are you like that? If so, I have a tip for you. Ready: Stop that!

These guys thought Lincoln was a backwood Illinois lawyer who walked around all day telling stories. (Aside: I keep telling you storytelling is critical!) He had to have confidence – in himself and his strategy. And with that, he eventually won them over.

I've already told you that we tend to surround ourselves with people who lie to us. I've also told you that we often lie to ourselves. It doesn't change when picking partners. Here's what I know:

  • You are not the best at everything. Admit it.
  • You have blind spots—things you can't see, but are there.
  • You're wasting money working on things you shouldn't be doing.

Strategies for Picking Partners

So if you want to pick partners like Lincoln did, here are my three tips:

  • Partner with smart people, even (and especially) if you don't agree on everything. The discussion will challenge you and make you sharper.
  • Partner with successful people, even (and especially) if they don't think you're amazing. Your game will improve when you hang with winners.
  • Partner with strategic people, even (and especially) if their strategies aren't the same as yours. There are often many routes to the same destination.

So those are my three strategies for picking partners, along with my cautions, and my tip on a great movie you have to go see. Didn't think you'd get all that in one post, now did ya?