Seek First to Understand then to be Understood

When you've been in the venture business as long as I have, you have seen your share of dysfunctional, poisonious board/management situations. None of these needed to occur. They all fall into the "life's too short" category. Understanding, alignment and unification (leave your ego at the door) are the key elements of avoiding this. 

For those of you that have read my favorite book, the Tao of Pooh, this may seem familiar…Pooh is the Uncarved Block and just is. It talks a lot about misalignment occurring when we fail to see things as they really are but as we would like them to be.  I'm a novice here but seems also common with Buddha's core philosophy around how desiring things (versus seeing/accepting what is) leads to pain and suffering.

My mentor in the venture business, Ed Chandler, taught me this about venture deals. He said that every company and every board/management team of individuals have natural directions, biases and likely behaviors. A good VC or manager, must first assess where things/people will go naturally given a situation, biases & incentives. Understand the logical paths forward then and determine where does that leave the company. To the degree that there are misalignments between parties, figure out how to facilitate coordination between these misalignments so as to unify everyone such that they are rowing in the same direction.  Take ego and one's own agenda out of the picture for a moment when doing this. If the direction is hazardous or wrong, your job is to then figure out, given each party's (or the market's) natural inclinations and nature, how to shift the direction or flow naturally. If the flow can't be redirected, then you need to accept that and figure out what you need to do given that reality versus sticking your head in the sand and bemoaning your fate to all that will listen. In other words, if the result is not what you hope for, you need to embrace and "lean" into the pain/disappointment and fully appreciate it. From there, you can figure out the optimal next steps and chapter. If you deny or fight what is happening, you never fully understand what is meant to be, to align yourself with that and to fail quickly and redirect/reinvent. A friend used to tell me to always "lean into pain" not away from it  and understand it…like putting pressure on a cramp. It eventually dissolves.
Too often people put their own ego or desire first and try to remake their environment/company in their own image. They use force, leverage, politics and other means by which to do this. In the end, they may be successful but at what cost. You usually have collateral damage in the form of broken trust, dysfunctional communications and often, a result where they win the battle and lose the war. Early in my career, I used to lean on legal rights (blocking rights, board votes, etc) to force through changes I wanted but others didn't. Eventually, I found myself completely isolated from future important dialogs and my relationships with those CEO's frayed. As Steve Covey said "seek first to understand then to be understood".