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4 Ways Leaders Can Strengthen Their Partnerships

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

Today I was reflecting on three defining influences of my childhood - Sesame Street, the Catholic Church and Free to Be You and Me.

Quite a trio, huh?

Well, I got stuck on Sesame Street and realized there are two characters with incredible potential to be an amazing leadership pair.

In fact, when I imagine them as an Executive Director/Board Chair pair, co-leaders of an organization or co-team leads, I really see how they could model this formula:

2 unique points of view + open communication + a dash of humor/reality check = a successful leader partnership.

Can you guess who I’m thinking about?

A Model Leader Partnership (Almost)!

It’s Bert & Ernie.

You’re probably thinking, those two goofballs have potential to be a model pairing? How on earth could they be successful? They are so stuck in their ways. They are so different. They argue all the time.

Yet I find that regardless of resumes, skills, backgrounds or divergent thinking, if leadership pairs practice four key postures they can transform their differences into assets and truly impact the work they’ve set out to accomplish.

What might these postures be and how do they show up between Bert & Ernie?

Let’s explore 4 Key Postures for Partnership Success: Posture One: Generosity

It all begins when, through hiring, promotion, happenstance or the brilliance of Jim Henson, the partnership is set.

Knowing no one is perfect, the two who will now work together are best off if they enter into their relationship with a spirit of generosity and kindness.

It is inevitable that each side will make mistakes. It is certain that each side will be uncertain about parts of their role. Yet, by showing generosity to your partner through assuming positive intention and embracing a desire to understand (rather than critique or complain) you lay the foundation for a strong relationship that will reap benefits down the road.

As Bert tries to teach Ernie, it’s important to stop and think about how we impact our partner.

Posture Two: Candor

Have you ever been in an external meeting or public conversation with your leadership partner when they said something that surprised you (in a negative way)? This can really breed confusion and distrust.

Confusion and distrust are not helpful for a successful partnership.

Leadership pairs who practice honesty and straight talk are more likely to lead with courage and intention, rather than uneasiness and resentment.

Posture Three: Support

When you are leading others, a key secret to success and happiness in the role is feeling supported. In fact, my research shows how not feeling supported is one of the main reasons that nonprofit Executive Directors leave their roles early.

Isn’t it amazing that you hold the power to transform your leadership partner’s experience and ability to thrive in their role just by being supportive?

Successful leadership partners find ways to notice strengths in each other and mention them often - both in private and in public. Playing this role of champion feels good and also sets the stage for success when giving constructive feedback and realigning your work.

Ernie shows us how he supports Bert when he shares all the things he doesn’t mind about him.

Posture Four: Safety

Any leader doing their job well will face challenges. Given the foundation laid through the practices above, leadership pairs should already trust each other and be ready for any crises that arises.

At this point (and there will always be crises of one sort or the other), the two should be ready to defend, shelter and support each other knowing that no matter the bumps, they are working towards common strategic goals.

Even if your challenge is as small as not having your friend play with you, Ernie and Bert model how to protect each other.

I will admit that Bert & Ernie goof-up these postures a lot. Ernie might try to hide something from Bert instead of using candor. Bert might criticize Ernie instead of being generous. And usually Ernie really doesn’t understand what support or safety Bert really needs.

What I adore, though, is that they are always trying.

Can you imagine what they could accomplish if they always used the leadership postures of generosity, candor, support and protection? While their skits might not be as funny to watch, Sesame Street would be changed forever.

For real life leader partnerships, valuing these postures creates trust and lays the framework for a strong organizational culture. This allows the groups they’re leading to reach their goals faster, handle challenges with intention and steward resources more effectively. It can be tough emotional work, yet it’s worth it in the long run.

Who is your Ernie or Bert? Can I help you strengthen your leader partnership in any way? Let me know!

If you enjoyed this blog, join my newsletter for more insights, stories and actions for ambitious nonprofit leaders. And in the meantime, keep up with me on LinkedIn!


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