Business Partner Treating You Like an Employee?  Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I started a business with my best friend about ten years ago after the real estate bubble burst and we were both laid off from our financial services business. 

Against considerable odds, we have been very successful.  We decided when we started to grow that he would be CEO and I would CFO/COO.  The roles made sense in terms of our strengths and skill sets. 

In the past two years or so, my partner has let the title go to his head and has begun acting as if he is the sole head of the business.  He has been making decisions on his own, without consulting me, and treating me as if I am his employee, not his equal partner. 

We have identical financial stakes in the business and have been working side by side the whole time—so we are, in fact, business equals. It would bother me less if he weren’t making some poor decisions.  What do you think I should do?


Dear Concerned,

This situation should bother you a lot, even if he were making all good decisions.  Somehow you have given away your power to your partner and you need to cut it out.  Make a date to have a good chat. If he won’t commit to a time, sit in his office until he walks in.  You may have to force the issue because at this point he is probably avoiding you.  You must absolutely stop this situation before things spiral out of control.

Business partnerships are like marriages.  They both require a baseline of mutual affection and respect and a contract or code for behavior—but most important, they need wide open communication.  I wonder if you have set values for the business.  If so, you might be able to call on those.  Either way, something has shifted and you must address it now.

Prepare for the conversation by being clear about what behaviors are out of character and not working.  Do not attack him personally.  Formulate your requests for change and be prepared to make them.  Also be prepared to hear from him what you’ve been doing that is not working for him, as I am sure there are things that are going unsaid.

Somehow, something went sideways between the two of you—and you probably know what it was.  You need to get it all out on the table.  It wouldn’t hurt to work with a professional who can help the two of you communicate and set up rules of the road for moving forward. But that is in the future. I am a big fan of a technique from Paul and Layne Cutright called the “Heart to Heart Talk.” It’s a way of getting all the stuff that needs to be said between two people out on the table so that it can be discussed and they can move on. Randy Conley wrote about it in another Blanchard blog, which you can read here.  This technique could be step two. It’s very effective—but it requires the two participants to behave themselves and really act like grownups.

Please don’t let this go on much longer. The more you let your partner run amok, the more normal it will seem to everyone and the harder it will be to stop.  The longer you don’t stand up for yourself as an equal, the more he will treat you as if you’re not one.

Good luck, Concerned.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

2 thoughts on “Business Partner Treating You Like an Employee?  Ask Madeleine

  1. I have the problem in reverse. I’ve taken on a partner in a business that I created. They act and think like an employee, when I need them to come to the table and be a partner. My version of EE vs Partner- EE’s show up to work from 8-5, expect holidays and PTO, and have little thought to how they get paid; only that they do get paid. A partner is there no matter what time or day (when necessary), is striving to make sure there’s money in the bank so everyone gets paid. (this is only one example.) Not sure how to help change this.

    • Hi There,
      Thanks so much for sharing this with me and our readers. This sounds like a tough one – some people just show up and act like own the place (for better and for worse) and some people just don’t seem to have that …whatever it is. Partnerships are so tricky, and if you didn’t go into the deal with out clear expectations, it is hard to create them on the fly. You are probably going to want to have a heart to heart at some point about expectations.

Leave a Reply