‘Partnering’ — Lionesses of Africa

by Lionesses of Africa Operations Department

“What is more important – the journey or the destination?”

To which there is only one answer – “The Company”.

Steve Jobs famously encouraged people to pick up the phone and call people from whom they wanted help (you can see his interview here). He says that he never found anyone who did not want to help him when he asked. Indeed we are often encouraging this, simply asking what is the worst that could happen? Pointing out that if you don’t ask it is an automatic “No!”, but if you do ask, the worst is that they say “No!” and they might say “Yes!” and from our experience and certainly it seems from Steve Job’s experience, this is very rare. For those who are thinking that no one would have turned down Steve Jobs (fair point), his story starts as a 12 year old when he called up the owner of Hewlett-Packard, a Mr Bill Hewlett at his home, to ask him to help him build a ‘frequency counter’. Mr Hewlett said yes and sent over all the necessary bits and pieces, following which he offered a job on a production line to the young Steve.

Likewise when Nick Park was starting out (Nick for those that don’t know spends hours and hours manipulating little pieces of plasticine to make the incredible Wallace and Gromit films – one animator working on one puppet does about 3 seconds of film per 8 hour day, as he said in his lovely Desert Island Disk interview here – now that’s dedication!), he called Harbutts Plasticine and asked if he gave them a credit on his film, could they give him some Plasticine for free? They told him he can have as much as he could carry. In true Wallace and Gromit fashion, Nick turned up with a van and loaded up about half a tonne! However 6 Oscar nominations later, 4 of those being wins, Harbutts probably got their money’s worth!

…Still, they could have said no.

So what happens when these requests and subsequent offers of help turn more serious and move towards a partnership? Although as our very patient Editor knows, we could write for days on the pros and cons of partnerships, what really matters and certainly what all highly successful partnerships have in common was that they moved away from the term ‘partnership’ and embraced ‘partnering’, and so this is where we shall concentrate our efforts.

We recently listened to an excellent podcast by Simon Sinek with Jean Oelwang (here). According to her LinkedIn profile, Jean Oelwang is the ‘founding CEO and President of Virgin Unite…Over the last 15 years, she has worked with partners to lead the incubation and start-up of several global initiatives, including: The Elders, The B Team, The Carbon War Room (successfully merged with the Rocky Mountain Institute), Ocean Unite, The Caribbean Climate Smart Accelerator, 100% Human at Work, The Virgin Unite Constellation and The Branson Centres of Entrepreneurship. She also played a key partner role in the incubation of many others such as The Audacious Project and The New Now’, so there is absolutely no doubt she not only knows what she is talking about, but that she has worked with some of the very best across the globe, including the greatest partnerships.

The saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”, is certainly one that all Lionesses are familiar with, but as she writes in her fascinating book, “Partnering: Forge the Deep Connections That Make Great Things Happen” (here), “the only way to go both fast and far, is together.” All the great partnerships such as “Ben and Jerry, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Desmond and Leah Tutu, and the lesser-known scientists behind the movement to ban ozone-depleting CFCs [Mario Molina and F. Sherry Rowland in case you were wondering]” have this in common – they go truly together, partnering and through this find great fulfillment in their lives.

She mentions as an example the two CFC scientists who thought innocently that when they announced their discovery of the Ozone Hole, the whole world would wake up and take their work seriously, instead they just woke the $8billion CFC Industry Bear that overnight started to attack them personally, and for the next 10 years! The only way they survived that and why we today are just starting to close the Ozone Hole is purely because of them, their friendship, and their partnering that gave them the strength to get up each morning.

A partnership can be very binary – “You do the accounting because you are good at numbers and I will do the selling because I am great with people” kinda thing, two individuals pushed together – which in turn can be pulled apart. Partnering is far more three dimensional where different characters are celebrated because this truly brings strength. They are, to use her phrase, ‘hyper-connected’ and involved at so many levels. In the podcast these talk for example about the ability, because of the ‘partnering’ relationship, to lean on one another. If one was down (yeah, we know it happens!), the other takes the weight and drives them both forward during that time and visa versa.

To move away from a partnership being purely transactional, to how together they can make a difference to the world – together, that is the key…

According to Jean, there are six degrees of connection that one has to work on to create a real ‘partnering relationship.

These are:

  1. Elevating your life purpose by cultivating meaningful partnerships.

  2. Going all-in with your relationship (having each other’s back).

  3. Creating a ‘moral ecosystem’.

  4. Cultivating magnetic moments through rituals, traditions, or daily practices to deepen your relationship. Have some fun!

  5. Turn conflict into a learning opportunity by celebrating friction.

  6. Collective connections, such as ‘relational scaffolding’ – valuing the relationships that you build rather than focusing on transactions.

For us the two most interesting are the ‘celebrating friction’ and the creation of a ‘moral ecosystem’.

So how do we ‘celebrate friction’. For many great partnering relationships, when they disagree it is not personal, it is not an attack, instead it is seen as an opportunity to learn something new. Jean said that one way to do this was to come to every conversation not just with an open mind, but with the thought, “what if the other person is right…[also] always go in thinking there is a third way.” These two thoughts avoid you being locked into your position, or even locked into just two opposing positions, from which there is no movement.

As far as building a moral ecosystem, according to Jean there are 6 central ‘virtues’ required and indeed as we read through this book we realized that much of these could apply to great leadership, now known as ‘leadering’!

Enduring trust, which along with doing what you say, has communication at its core. “Airbnb’s management talk…about “elephants, dead fish, and vomit.” “Elephants are the big things in the room that nobody is talking about, dead fish are the things that happened a few years ago that people can’t get over, and vomit is that sometimes people just need to get something off their mind and you need someone to just sit there and listen,””.

Unshakable mutual respect, this is not because you are so similar in thought with your partner, often one can be from completely different backgrounds and political thought (especially these days with such horrific polarisation in the political world), yet your unshakable mutual respect leads you to listen and then absorb what the other has said. You may still not agree, but at least your own views have been challenged. As Jean says “what kills respect and trust is judgement” and we have all seen it, that moment when someone rolls their eyes. Bang! That’s it – respect and trust is thrown out of the window. Simon talks about being in a conversation, but not listening, instead waiting for your turn to speak. Jean said that one she interviewed tightened that by saying that “If you don’t listen to someone that means that they do not exist.” Ouch! But very true if you think about it.

United belief, this “shared confidence in each other, as well as a faith that together you can make the impossible possible”.

Shared humility, we are not all seeing, all knowing omnipotent beings, we are human, that means that we do not know everything, but my goodness we want to learn. We must remain curious.

Nurturing generosity, as it costs us nothing to share the glory with others. Indeed moving back to ‘leadering’, it is truly a mark of a great leader to give praise to others, whilst taking the blame themselves for misfortune, errors and mistakes, this works in ‘partnering’ too.

Compassionate empathy, not just feeling others’ pain or feelings, but understanding why. Again, no judgement.

Throughout all of this work by Jean we began to see that great partnerships are no accident Indeed, ask any long time happily married couple, there is a great deal in what they have experienced, especially that within the ‘moral ecosystem’, that Jean also noticed in the great ‘partnering’ relationships. The longevity and success doesn’t happen by accident, it has to be worked upon, always fed, it is always fair and always respectful, but then the power – Girl! You can change the world!

Stay safe.

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