Recently my wife, frequent co-author and trusted business partner wrote about what it’s like to collaborate with her husband. Now it’s my turn. Whereas Karen likes to build trust first by demonstrating world-class dependability and showing incredible compassion, I do so by being honest to a fault and broadcasting my competence whenever possible. Together, we are able to achieve far more than we could do so singly, though it’s not always pretty to watch us collaborate.
Opposites in everything but purpose.
Karen and I are almost complete opposites. I’m the night owl, and she’s the lark. I love to gab on the phone, and Karen prefers to text. We both love email, which neither of our kids like.
Our creative differences and different work styles make us more innovative and have led to solid bottom-line results for more than two decades. Nevertheless, the process of forging a common vision and producing results is hardly friction-free. When we first started doing research and consulting together, we had to learn each another’s strengths and weaknesses, even though we’d already been married for seven years. (We're now at year 29.) Along the way, we've certainly scratched each other’s egos in sorting out who was best at what.
When it comes to writing papers together, Karen excels at the hard part of putting down a first draft, and I thrive at editing and refining these. I prefer to lay out a logical outline and set of arguments, whereas Karen prefers a freer form approach to getting thoughts out.
I proudly read the dictionary as a child and now love my Dictionary.com app and love to obsess about syntax and grammar, whereas Karen is always emailing me, “Have you at least finished another page this afternoon?” I love finding new companies and inspiring leaders to profile. I also thrive under the pressure of deadlines but am a world-class procrastinator. Karen is much better at making sure we meet deadlines but doesn’t care as much about making arguments and examples air-tight. For our consulting, I love to do the quantitative analysis and Karen excels at the qualitative.
My fiercest advocate and toughest critic.
For us to combine our strengths as effectively as possible, we must accept our blistering criticisms of each another. I’ve been called the “narrow-minded numbskull" and “nerd-grump,” whereas I don’t hesitate to say her drafts can be full of “glittering generalities” or that other people can’t mind-read her points. I can be pedantic and bullheaded, and she can be a marshmallow.
During the heat of an argument, our children are adept at leaving the house to practice lacrosse or turning up the music. But the fact that we’ve been in love with each other for 34 years means that we’re tough enough to take each other’s criticisms and apply them to improve each other and our work together.
Success matters no matter who gets the credit.
I earned my doctorate in five years well before we had children but it took Karen only three years to earn hers with the social support of our young children. Because we wrote our first articles together before Karen had her doctorate, she assumed that reporters asked to interview me because I was the “Dr. Mishra.” I denied this while secretly relishing being the mouthpiece for our early research.
One day, an Associated Press reporter called to interview Karen about our latest article, as she was the lead author (we typically alternate). Karen was out of town on a consulting engagement. She came home to find out that I had enjoyed yet another scintillating conversation with a reporter. All I could say was that I was sure other reporters would be calling her soon and that I’d made dinner. I failed to mollify her. The next day, I got my comeuppance. The reporter had masterfully summarized our key findings but referred to me “as “Karen Mishra’s husband and a former auto worker.” This time it was Karen’s turn to console me.
Serving as coaches and mentors to each other.
Karen helped me become successful at selling and marketing our leadership development practice based on her decades of experience as a sales marketing professional. In turn, I am her biggest cheerleader and have coached her in selling herself (she's humble to a fault) because I grew up in a family of big, loud egos where everyone had to sell their point of view every day and night at the kitchen table.
We have very different personalities and sometimes competing priorities. Making the most of these differences is critical so we can be effective business partners. Here are some tips for other spouses serving as business partners:
1. Be flexible.
We didn’t get into business together because of a deliberate strategy. Rather, we started working together when I asked Karen to help me in my dissertation research. We quickly learned each other’s approach to work and started adapting. Karen prefers to lay out a plan of action before doing a project, and I would rather to jump right in and figure out the plan going along. Karen focuses on the big picture, and I love to worry about the details.
Entrepreneurs should know it that it can take time to understand their partner’s different style. Once we understood each other’s yin and yang, we could forge a highly productive team. The time invested in learning about and appreciating how each other works is worth it. Failing to do so only creates problems down the road.
At the beginning of a partnership, take time up front to describe how you like to work, what motivates you and your pet peeves. Then develop a plan for dovetailing your different styles.
2. Focus on strengths to offset weaknesses.
I love to meet new people, talk with them at length and then craft convincing stories about what I’ve learned in my interviews. In turn, Karen is adept at developing a compelling big picture, the “so what” that results from our research.
A similar dynamic applies to our leadership development and consulting work. I like to do the prospecting, project formulation, formal analysis and client development. Karen makes sure that what we provide to clients meets all their needs, reflects our individual and joint capabilities and provides an integrative and coherent solution.
Our different strengths and interests can lead to conflicts over short-term goals and priorities, which we resolve through lots of discussion and informal negotiation. The bottom line is we know that we have each other’s best interests at heart, that our sometimes stinging criticisms are designed only to improve our work and one another and that we have a lot more fun working together than working alone.
Determine what motivates you and how you like to make decisions. Then find ways to fulfill your interests and priorities while your partner does the same.
3. Grow continuously.
We serve as each another’s coaches and sounding boards about our careers and day-to-day jobs. When I chose to be self-employed for 18 months a couple of years ago, I had to learn selling and marketing from Karen. By the same token, I serve as Karen’s editor for most of her manuscripts and her tech support as well.
Business partners who are married should set aside time regularly to provide feedback, not only on their work together and other aspects of their relationship.
As I've told my students countless times, leadership can be a very lonely journey and so it’s critical to find a “merry band of brothers and sisters” to charge up that hill. I’ve learned the same is true for entrepreneurship, research and consulting, for an extravert like me. Having Karen as the first person on my team has made my professional and personal journeys more productive, creative, rewarding and worthwhile.