What makes a good partner?

Apr 17, 2022

These are some of the most important qualities to look for in a potential business partner.

Most of us who are owners of businesses have partners or fellow owners of one sort or another. It’s really common in this business to have multiple owners of firms.

I think a lot of people believe partners should all be like-minded. Heck, if you asked me if I thought they should be that 35 years ago, I would have said “yes.” But today, we know better. It’s all about diversity. And not just diversity in sex, race, or national origin – although those things make sense because we live in a diverse world – but also diversity in thought and experience.

But that presents a problem. Diverse-thinking people don’t always get along. And the partners in a business need to do get along or it’ll be hell. So the ability for different types of people to get along is a requirement for good partners.

I could talk all day about the benefits of diverse-thinking partners who get along, but there is more to it than that. Here are the qualities that have been present in some of the best partners I have had over the years:

  1. Big picture thinkers who can get beyond their roots. The worst partners I have had or observed in client companies over the years could never take off their “Kansas City office leader” hat or their “HVAC engineer” hat to see the bigger picture and support what was really best for the whole company.
  2. People who are honest and ethical. There just isn’t any room in the tent for dishonest or unethical people, especially for those who are the owners of the business. They will always do something that brings shame or embarrassment to the firm at some point in the future. Too much risk having these kinds of partners, no matter how much work they can bring in.
  3. No hidden agendas! The last kind of person you want to be in bed with in business is someone who has a plan you aren’t a part of, or are unaware of. These people can be very divisive and may even turn into insurrection leaders. This, too, is one of those qualities that at some point will lead to something ugly.
  4. People who do what they say they will. Integrity is a term I don’t hear used often, but it’s an essential quality for good business partners. It’s not all about accountability forced on people through their managers. Let’s face it, once people become partners – at least in many companies – they are treated as if they have tenure with no boss. Therefore we need responsible partners who don’t need to be closely managed for results and can instead be counted on to be self-accountable.
  5. Great interpersonal skills. I don’t think everyone needs to be an extrovert, and yet that is some people’s understanding of “interpersonal skills.” I do mean that partners must be people who know how to communicate clearly and understand how to treat other people so they don’t alienate and demotivate them. This is a crucial quality for partners!
  6. Willingness to make sacrifices for the benefit of the whole. Even though it may not feel like it now, some leaders have had to make sacrifices in the past and could have to again to keep everything together. That may mean pay cuts, signing personal guarantees for business loans, and more. I can tell you we had to do this at Zweig Group at various points in our long history, and the partners stood up and took the hits and maintained the company’s viability. People who will do that are good partners!

One more thing: I don’t need to be best friends with my business partners. That’s OK, too. Everyone spends plenty of time with their people at work. We can all have mutual respect for each other and work as a team without having to do everything together, both inside and outside of the office. If you think friendship is a requirement for business partners, you won’t be able to build your business. There are only so many “best friends” anyone needs or can sustain, and that is too high of a bar to throw up for potential business partners. Mutual respect is much more important! 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.