There is no way out but through
I feel like my cofounder argues with me and is undermining during board meetings. What should I do?
First, that sucks. It sucks to be in business with someone who’s not behaving well, and who may not appreciate the harm this particular situation can cause.
Next, get over yourself. You chose to work with this human and there’s no way to unwind it now. You made a company together! Your only choice now is to figure it out.
A cofounder damaging you in the boardroom is a symptom of a bigger problem. Something has happened, something’s dramatically changed, or something is in the process of going really wrong. Off the top of my head, your cofounder could:
Some of these are you, some of these are them, and some are the intersection of the two (or three) of you. It’s now your full-time job to find out because every single one of the things listed above is a fundamental risk to your company and/or your position.
It may or may not be easy to find out what’s going on in their brain. You can try to ask directly and maybe they’ll tell it to you straight. (And you better damn well sit there, listen, and not say a word back!) Maybe they’ll tell you some of the story but not all of it. In that case, you have to probe: “What do you mean by x?” And if they’re not telling you anything, you may need to consider a mediator. At my last company, there were times when cofounder communication had broken down and we turned to a founder therapist. It’s couples counseling, not executive coaching, and dives into the basics. It’s here that you may find out your cofounder experiences feelings so rarely that they truly are a sociopath—or that they look up to powerful white men like they are the sun that shines in the sky.
So what do you do when you find out what’s actually going on?
In all of these cases, you still have to reset the relationship with the board. How? “I’m sure you’ve noticed that XYZ hasn’t been working and we’ve noticed that as well. We’ve put together a plan for addressing XYZ concern and I appreciate your support in helping us implement it.” Cofounders should ALWAYS present a unified front to investors.
Keep pressing to neutralize the threat and don’t give up until that’s done. Good luck.
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