Margo Aaron and Pam Yang knew virtually from the start they should become accountability partners, a serendipitous happening that not all entrepreneurs get to experience.
“We’d heard the term ‘accountability partner’ thrown around in our entrepreneurial circles, but weren’t too keen on the idea of being ‘set up’ randomly with someone,” Aaron explains.
In the entrepreneurial world, accountability partners provide guidance and hold their partners to their commitments to help them take their success to the next level. Unlike mentorships or sponsorships, there is a duality to the relationship — each person holds their partner accountable to their goals.
After meeting for coffee to ensure their fit and strategize their dynamic, the partners now talk once a week about their goals, accomplishments, fears, and strategies.
“Something feels missing when we don’t,” Yang says.
When picking your own accountability partner, Aaron and Yang have a few tips:
Be clear on what you want and need.
What you want to get out of the partnership and what you think you need can certainly evolve over time, Yang says, but to start it helps to set expectations so the other person knows what you’re hoping to get out of them. Part of this involves owning your weaknesses, she explains. “Other people can’t help you if they don’t know what your problems are.”
Don’t use a friend.
“You want someone who can be objective, who isn’t too close to your life, and who isn’t worried about hurting your feelings,” Aaron warns.
Don’t assume because you like someone that they will be a good partner.
“It’s not about ‘liking’ them, it’s about trusting them to give good business feedback,” Aaron says.
Find someone you respect and whose word carries weight for you.
While it’s extremely helpful to find someone who understands your business and industry, Yang believes what’s most important is that you respect each other’s professional sensibility and find value in her contribution to your career.
Don’t get into this if you’re not ready to commit to your own success and to someone else’s.
“My role is to support Margo and not let her down, and in turn I trust that she will do that for me,” Yang says.
Examine a potential partner’s approach to their own business.
Because you want to work with someone who will keep you on your toes and push you and your business to grow, Aaron suggests being wary of people who don’t push themselves or their own business.
Ask yourself: How do they handle their clients? What books do they read? How do they bounce back from setbacks? “You need to respect them, otherwise you wont listen to them and the relationship will be void,” Aaron says.
Talk on the phone.
Aaron says talking on the phone helps underscore that this is a business meeting. “You are not grabbing coffee with a friend, no catching up or gossiping. Straight to the items you’ve agreed to discuss pertaining to your business.”
Include a grace period.
It’s essential, Yang says, to get to know your accountability partner a bit before you decide to commit, then test it out for a few weeks.
In their first in-depth conversation, Yang and Aaron spent three hours talking about who they are, where they come from, their careers, what they want to accomplish, what their styles are like, and what are their strengths and weaknesses.
“I immediately liked Margo and only more so after our first meeting, but even after that we were very honest and said we’re not sure how this will work or if we’ll get value out of it, so we both started with a clear understanding that this was a test,” Yang says. “Everyone’s style and personality is so different, it’s important to find someone who works with yours.”
Aaron suggests asking yourself after a month: Is this person reliable? Do they respond to emails? Do they cancel our calls often? Is this really a priority for them? Do they do the work or are they just venting?
Treat it as a professional relationship first and a part of your responsibilities work-wise.
“If you become friends, great. That’s what happened for us, Yang says. “But setting the tone early kept us focused on being accountability partners and the small talk short as you would in a regular business meeting.”
Once they got the hang of things and knew what worked for them, Yang says the two got to know each more organically. “I think i just learned Margo’s boyfriend’s name last week, three months after we started being accountability partners.”
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