Business Friends

One of the books we use a lot with teams and organizations is “Leadership and Self-Deception”. Like most books of its kind, it has problems with structure, flow, a tendency to beat readers over the head.

But it makes good, powerful points about the nature of relationships – and the simple fact that the way we see, and treat, others frequently (and not always consciously) sabotages our effectiveness, and our leadership.

One of L&SD’s core lessons invites us to explore our “way of being”, essentially our emotional attitude toward others. Do we see, experience and treat our boss, our coworker, our spouse in a responsive way – a way that truly values them as a person with unique needs and abilities? Or, do we see them in a resistant way, as problems or obstacles or challenges or annoyances? The simple point of the book is we often never stop to ask these questions – and our answers can change very quickly, very situationally.

I have a friend who I’ve known since I started Floricane who now runs a consulting business very similar to my own. We have many of the same connections, and periodically our work overlaps. I’ll call him Matthew, since that’s actually his name.

Matthew and I regularly catch up with each other, and have made a practice of being open and honest as we have shared stories about our work. We’ve also compared notes on how we price our work, and the types of work we’re chasing. It’s a far cry from collusion, but this level of transparency, I’ve found, is tough to maintain in business. Especially during a tight market, as both of our businesses start to grow and experience success.

Enter Leadership and Self-Deception.

Early last spring, Matthew called me to ask some questions about how we price conference talks or public speechifying. My first instinct was to be entirely honest – we usually hadn’t charged for such activities. That was my responsive impulse. It was immediately followed by my resistant impulse – What was Matthew really trying to find out? What sort of talk was he giving, and why wasn’t someone on our team giving it? He’s becoming a competitor, so I’d better play things close to the chest.

What a terrible feeling! After a few moments of hemming and hawing, I went back to my first impulse and we had a very good conversation. If I had stayed in that space of resistance, however, you can only imagine how much that would have damaged our relationship – and created the very thing about which I quickly became suspicious and fearful.

Now that Floricane is in the Richmond Times-Dispatch Building, our offices are just a block away from Matthew’s. Last week, we sat down and had a very open conversation about our business challenges, and opportunities. It was real, it was refreshing and it was a reminder that not only can you have friends in competitive places, but that rising tides are most likely to lift all boats if the crews are communicating.

It’s nice to be out of the box, and to be responsive to our friends – and competitors.