Trying to balance working and travelling with my family means I sometimes forget I have the hotel room key, and leave them locked out. It’s character building.

Trying to balance working and travelling with my family means I sometimes forget I have the hotel room key, and leave them locked out. It’s character building.

Two weeks ago, my business partner, Felicity, and I had a necessary, supportive and courageous conversation. It was also, for me at least, deeply uncomfortable. And the subject was 'contribution'.

Honestly, I don't know if I could have used that first sentence more than a handful of times in my twelve year career in retail & marketing. Maybe towards the end, as I got better and better at being my true self at work (read: giving less of a shit what people thought of me), but up until that point my absolute priority had been maintaining an image as a positive, high-achieving, contributing leader.

I absolutely hated it when others didn't pull their weight, which I measured in terms of hours worked and output delivered. The worst thing someone could have said about me (after 'she's nowhere near as funny as she thinks she is') was 'she doesn't add any value'.

Creating 2iC Leadership is the first time I've built something from scratch with another person. I set up my own coaching practice in 2015, but that felt very different. I could go at my own pace, do what I wanted, and was letting nobody down (except myself) if nothing moved forward.

So, what was this deeply uncomfortable conversation about, and why do I think it's relevant to share with other people? I'll answer the second part of that question first. Fliss and I want to build a peer-coaching programme to help second-in-commands in fast-growth startups uncover and own the leader they truly want to be. We can't do that, can't create an inspiring, soulful and nurturing experience, unless we bring our OWN stories along for the ride. And one of the themes we'll be exploring in 2iC is how you contribute value to your business.

The conversation started with Fliss asking me how I was finding the balance between working, looking after a 6-month old baby, and preparing for a two-month round-the-world trip with husband and baby. Now, it's in my DNA to want to do it all. I want people to see me as some type of inspiring-yet-friendly demigod who wafts around serenely, managing the life-load of 6 people and being side-splittingly funny at the same time. To be clear, this bears very little resemblance to reality.

So I replied that I was finding less time to work on our business venture than I would like, but that I would definitely be able to do a day a week while traipsing around Asia with a teething baby (oh yeah, sure), and that I felt guilty that she was contributing more than I was.

It quickly became apparent that I was constantly worrying I was letting Fliss down by not having the time or headspace to dedicate to 2iC. And she was constantly feeling held back from going full steam ahead on business development, worrying that she'd be leaving me behind. We were both stuck, and nothing was moving forward as a result.

And then Fliss said something that's transformed my understanding of contribution:

“You know, things don't have to be equal, to be equitable”.

Honestly, it kind of blew my mind. 'Fairness' is my #1 value (much to my husband's eternal frustration). The idea that I could be a partner in something without doing EXACTLY the same amount of work, floored me. It unlocked a powerful conversation about what we're both able to contribute right now, what we both want to contribute right now, and what we need from each other right now. Because each of these things will constantly evolve — contribution is not a static thing. 

At this moment, Fliss needs me to be a cheerleader, wrapping my enthusiasm and positivity around her, and a funnel, telling people about our new business and pointing them in her direction to find out more. This, I can do (hopefully). We agreed how we'd communicate while I was travelling, and how we'd continue to discuss this topic of contribution. I'm incredibly proud we were both able to be honest, show self-leadership, and unblock something that was stopping the business moving forward through simply being unsaid.

We'd love to hear your experiences of this. As a second-in-command, how do you believe you contribute value to your business? What do you WANT to contribute? What does the founder/CEO need from you?

To learn more about 2iC Leadership and our peer-coaching programme starting Feb 2019, check out the programme overview here or contact felicity@bendtheriver.org.