Partnering: A Framework For Transformational Leadership
“Partnering” is a framework that offers a simple and practical approach to quickly align on what matters most, build the openness needed to explore possibilities, and create the conditions to co-create shared value. Through partnering, leaders can unlock the full potential of their teams and create a more collaborative and innovative workplace.
- Power Your Leadership With A Partnering Mindset
- What is Partnering?
- Partnering vs. Parenting
- Partnering – A Powerful Operating System
- What About Conflict & Tough Conversations?
Power Your Leadership With A Partnering Mindset
Think back to a time when you felt happily connected and in the flow of your work. You were fully immersed; time worked in your favour–you accomplished more in significantly less time. Closing your computer for the day, you felt a sense of meaning and contribution, like you had added real value to your organization. The wash of satisfaction continued as you headed home. You were newly energized, fully present and engaged for a night of activities with your family.
At Juice, we have a preposterous belief: that a day like this, where you’ve made a valuable contribution at work and still have energy left over for everything else that matters to you, should be the norm.
You’ve likely had days like this, though perhaps not consistently, and certainly not the norm. But imagine if this became your day-to-day reality. And imagine if you could create this reality for your team at work.
Here’s the good news: You can. Over the past 20 years, we’ve developed a simple and practical framework we call Partnering, that helps unlock more in yourself and your employees through powerful conversations, which leads to better performance, and greater energy and fulfillment for your team. The kind of day we describe above is the natural by-product of relationships marked by a partnering mindset.
What is Partnering?
We define Partnering as “two people holding out for each other’s highest good”. It’s a shift from transactional to relational conversations. When you’re in a transactional relationship with your employees, you rely heavily on authority and perks to motivate them and to get results. But these carrots and sticks can only get you so far. Transactional conversations are energy- depleting for everyone involved, leading to feelings of disillusionment, disengagement, ongoing fatigue and, over time, burnout.
When you partner with an employee, you both commit to an active process of decision-making and meeting needs. This means holding space for the other person so you can co-create outcomes that meet both of your needs. At its core, partnering is about mutuality and respect–I will hold you accountable for your impact on results and relationships, and I expect you to hold me accountable in the same way.
Holding out for each other’s highest good means you aren’t doing something for, or to, your employee, but with your employee. You both have an equal commitment to each other and the outcome. This demands co-discovery by consciously discussing, considering and addressing one another’s needs, because you can’t know what the employee’s highest good is without understanding their goals, aspirations and purpose. And, they can’t know what their highest good is without your objective, clear-headed view of their potential. As a leader using this approach, you demonstrate that you have a vested interest in both the relationship and the results–the person and their performance. This is the path to an energized team that is set up to flourish.
Talking about needs in the workplace
The study of neurotransmitters and hormones (or if you like fancy words –Neuroendocrinology) tells us that our brains and bodies are deeply impacted by psychological needs. Unmet needs (and fulfilled ones) have electro-chemical and physical consequences. In short, needs directly impact our energy. Since we spend so much time at work, psychological needs, and whether they are met or unmet, in the workplace – dramatically influence our overall energy levels and, therefore, our performance. You can refer to our article about the Five Driving Needs in the workplace for a deeper dive on this topic.
Partnering vs Parenting
Since partnering in the workplace means holding out for each other’s highest good, leaders and employees must connect on the needs that matter most to each other and co-create ways to get those needs met.
The word “co-creation” is key. When in relational partnering, versus transactional dialogue, you shift from directing and telling to shared responsibility. This may sound simple enough, but it can be uncomfortable for some leaders. Sharing responsibility with an employee means relinquishing some of your ownership and control, and that can feel risky. When your brain senses that risk and discomfort, it has a simple solution: go binary. Your brain will have you believe you have two choices: take on all the responsibility, letting the employee off the hook but holding ultimate control over the results, or; give all responsibility over to the employee, relinquishing control but gaining immunity from risk.
In this way, responsibility feels like a see-saw, with one person slipping into over-responsibility and the other moving toward under-responsibility. Typically, we see leaders slip into over-responsibility–telling employees what to do, and how and when to do it, or simply doing the work themselves. We call this Parenting. Leading in this way has several adverse effects: it creates an imbalance of power; impacts individuals’ sense of ownership; fosters resentment; and stymies career development.
Instead, imagine the see-saw in perfect balance. This is the shift from parenting to partnering, where you and your employee are in an adult-to-adult relationship and share responsibility. You both have agency. You both own your part. As a leader, you hold out for your employee’s highest good (and share responsibility) by providing crystal-clear expectations, coaching, mentoring, guidance, systems, support and protection. Your employee holds out for your highest good (and shares responsibility) by offloading more and more responsibility from your shoulders and delivering value on every successive rung of the ladder.
Case Study: Back from the Brink, Part 1
Paula & Ziad
Paula’s Struggle: Monday at 10 a.m. Paula scrolls YouTube videos at her desk, already desperate for the weekend to arrive. Displaying all the signs of burnout, she can muster zero emotional engagement in her work.
Only six months before, Paula was hailed as a rock star business analyst, riding an arc of promised greatness. One company decision changed all that.
Company leaders took their eye off the ball, leaving Paula without the support and coaching she needed to succeed. Things spiraled. Her executive function became impaired and undermining behaviours crept in.
She begins finding reasons to be gone from work–a habit that has not escaped senior leaders’ attention; they are seriously reconsidering her status. She knows it, but has no clue how to turn things around. Then, amid all this chaos, Paula gets a new leader, Ziad.
Ziad has inherited the business analyst team, and with it, “special project” Paula. Ziad’s VP is clear: If Ziad can’t get Paula back on track, he has management’s blessing to “free up her future.”
In their first meeting, Paula has a sense of what she needs: more challenge and growth in her work. But her life journey has schooled her to stifle and mask her psychological needs rather than talk about them. So, Paula skirts the real issue. Ziad is well-meaning and wants to help. “Paula, I know there’s lots going on in your life…I’m willing to take some stuff off your plate to get you back on track.”
Ziad is stymied by Paula’s response: she’s crestfallen and leaves the meeting visibly deflated. They’re both frustrated and mystified that two smart, well-meaning people could have landed in such a mess. She’s perilously close to losing her job, and his credibility as a leader is at risk.
As a leader, you may relate to Ziad. His empathy triggers him to do what he thinks is best for Paula: taking things off her plate. While well-intentioned, he misses an important step: checking in with Paula about what matters most to her, and co-creating the path forward. By telling her his solution to take more off her plate, Ziad has fallen into the parenting trap and the responsibility binary. He’s taking on more responsibility, and letting Paula off the hook. The irony is, Paula doesn’t want more taken off her plate, and doesn’t want to be let off the hook. Both she and he are left frustrated and demoralized by this initial interaction.
Next, we’ll share the Partnering Operating System and how Ziad leveraged this model to turn things around with Paula.
Partnering–An Organizational Operating System
Consider your smartphone and the numerous apps you have downloaded. Each app has a stand-alone use, but all are powered by an underlying operating system.
You can think of your organization similarly. Imagine every function and action in your organization as its own app. Sales is an app, client service is an app, strategic planning is an app. Each of these organizational apps is powered by an underlying operating system (O/S): a framework used to empower people at all levels to maximize their impact on people and results.
At Juice, we’ve created the Partnering O/S, an organizational operating system which leverages relational conversation as the framework to engage, empower and ultimately energize people at all levels.
This partnering O/S has three steps:
- Connect on What Matters Most. Begin by exploring what matters most to both of you
- Explore What’s Possible. Look for interdependencies, options and possibilities, with curiosity and intention
- Co-Create a Path to Progres. Clarify the next steps so you can both have agency and responsibility to take mutually-determined action
Leveraging the Partnering O/S will enable your shift from parenting to partnering and help you generate the most value from everyday conversations, like coaching conversations, sales conversations, project conversations, and customer service conversations. As you make this shift, notice the change in your own energy levels, and those of your employees. Track the team’s performance. You’ll start to notice that by partnering in this way, you’ll unlock energy, engagement, and fuel sustained performance.
What about conflict and tough conversations?
Within tension lies the opportunity for energy renewal.
Holding out for each others’ highest good is bound to create some tension. Tension created between, let’s say, what matters most to you and your employee; you and a customer; your functional area and another functional area. Whenever there are competing needs, tension is bound to arise between individuals. The issue is not whether tension exists, but how to unlock positive (rather than destructive) energy from it.
Tension occurs when the needs of two individuals or groups differ, are mis- understood, or not understood at all. Opposing needs then act like a game of tug-of-war, pulling both sides in different directions. A transactional approach would have you hold firm in one position or the other, often resulting in energy depletion for all involved. By leveraging the Partnering O/S we’ve shared, you can harness the energy within the tension and move the relationship forward for mutually positive outcomes.
When stepping into this tension, keep the first step of the Partnering O/S in mind: Connect on what matters most to both of you. This will enable all involved to feel seen, heard and respected, which–you guessed it–releases those powerful brain juices that unlock and renew energy.
Let’s revisit our friends Ziad and Paula, and see how Ziad was able to put the partnering O/S into full effect and unlock the energy needed to fuel Paula’s performance.
Case Study: Back from the Brink, Part 2
Ziad has spoken with the folks at Juice and recalls the importance of partnering and having a relational connection. He decides to meet with Paula again, knowing that the first objective in partnering is to draw out what matters most to both of them. This marks a crucial pivot in Ziad’s approach…
Ziad’s transformation: In their next meeting, Ziad kindly and directly asks her, “Paula, what’s most important for you at work?” Her response is immediate. “I want to be seen as a high performer. But every time we meet, you take work off my plate … I want more challenges at work, not less.”
Ziad is stunned. Paula’s stress isn’t from too many challenges but too few. She feels bored and underutilized. Taking her at face value, Ziad provides Paula challenge upon challenge, offering her support and guidance as needed.
Quickly energized, Paula begins knocking it out of the park, delivering great results on every new assignment and responsibility. Ziad’s job as a leader is transformed from frustration and defeat to excitement and fulfillment. He is looking like a rock star too.
When parenting, Ziad was making assumptions based on Paula’s observable behaviour and was ready to move into action (taking more off her plate). If Ziad had maintained a parenting approach, he might have continued down the path of highlighting her poor performance and demanding changes in behaviour, with an implied “or else.”
By leveraging the Partnering O/S, Ziad creates the conditions for an open and honest dialogue to better understand what’s really going on with Paula. By connecting on what matters most, relational brain juices start to flow, allowing for greater trust and rapport. In this setting, Paula feels comfortable to share what matters most, and Ziad receives the information he needs to optimally manage Paula. They mutually agree to more challenging tasks, and have regular check-ins to discuss progress.
The story of Ziad and Paula is a true story, and is representative of the stories we’ve heard from our clients over the years. Shifting from parenting to partnering can be transformational in your leadership journey. We hope this article has inspired you to shift from transactional to relational, and from parenting to partnering. If you’d like to go deeper with this material, reach out to learn more about our programs.