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How to make one helluva good person, together

4 min read


I sat with two leaders in one of the last meetings we’d have. Six months of hard work by these two dedicated leaders who were leaders at odds with each other in an organization had paid off, and we were discussing what they’d learned.

These were not the same two people I saw in the beginning: blaming each other for the breakdown, angry, and worn down by fighting for their way. Recently, I had sensed a shift in them and their relationship.

They had the ability to make this shift all along. But when we started our work, it was buried under years of “stuff” that included judgment, assumptions and self-preservation.

Now, they didn’t shut down when the other person spoke. There was active engagement, a softening toward each other, and a willingness to appreciate each other. Today, they listened to understand the other’s viewpoint and to seek agreement on the important work decisions they jointly had to make.

There is almost always a bigger purpose that sparks reconciliation among individuals who can’t see eye to eye. And that was the case with these two.

The organizational mission was an important motivator for them to heal their relationship, and they were uncomfortable enough with the current situation to take risks and to make specific personal commitments.

The process to reconciliation is simple, but the execution can be hard. These two discovered some “secrets” to reconciling a broken relationship over the time we worked together. I’d like to share them with you:

  • Discover and declare the vision or mission that jointly drives you and if your organization doesn’t have one, be creative and make one up for yourselves. Make it big and inspiring — a statement that will drive you in your work together.
  • Commit authentically to a new future. What commitments are you willing to agree on that will help you to work together? These need to be shared behavioral goals like “listening without judgment” or making requests of the other person when you want help. Whatever you decide, this is an essential foundation for reconciling.
  • Let others around you know of your commitments. You are making a declaration and setting the stage for true leadership by modeling what you expect from others and admitting that you aren’t perfect. Go a step further and ask for feedback from stakeholders when either of you strays from your commitments.
  • Get to know each other differently. Spend time getting to know each other and your histories. What, in your history, makes you who you are today? How did your families work (or not) together, and how did that experience shape you?
  • Be willing to have respectful and regular “meta conversations.” Surface the hidden elephants in your relationship and be willing to speak to what they mean to you as individuals. (P.S. you may find that those elephants are full of assumptions and judgments about the other)
  • Assess your progress together. Ask and discuss these questions together: How are we doing? Are we noticing that the commitments we act on are making a difference in our organization(s)? Why or why not? What do we need to adjust?
  • Make new commitments for your future. There will be bumps along the road. But what you don’t want to do is to go back to the past. What new commitments do you want to make to assure your continued success in the relationship?

As we completed this almost-final meeting, one of the leaders said that she learned that the two of them “Make one helluva good person together”; in other words, they discovered how they use knowledge of each other to lead “as if they were one.” I know they’ll experience bumps in the road ahead, but I also know they have everything they need to deal with the obstacles — together.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages Fortune 500 corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.

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