Karin’s Leadership Articles

“But how do you KNOW our BPO vendors will follow-through, if we don’t put it in the contract?” I looked at my COO assuredly, “because they told me they would.”

“But what if they DON’T?, my boss continued.

“If they don’t do what they say, we’ve got much bigger problems than this metric. That would be a breach of our trusted partnership we’ve worked so hard to build over the last 2 years.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for writing great contracts. Over the last few years, I’ve learned the intricacies of this fine art and always start with a great contract– focused on incenting what matters most.

But I also know the minute you have to refer to the contract explicitlyk, you’re in trouble.

To achieve results create deeply connected, transparent, mutually beneficial relationships.

What Makes A Partner Trustworthy?

The Trust Across America built a quantifiable business case for trust, aggregating data based on FACTS

  • Financial stability and strength
  • Accounting conservativeness
  • Corporate governance
  • Transparency
  • Sustainability

What was not included in the model was my favorite part of their crowdsourced book, Trust Inc: Strategies For Building Your Companies Assets, Be Thoughtful.

“If your company is serious about increasing trustworthiness, consider engaging all of your stakeholders in rich thoughtful conversations. Don’t approach them as constituencies to be maneuvered, managed or massaged. Instead, view them as vital contributors to a better organization by letting them into the conversation. To be a thoughtful company with a thoughtful strategy, trust for stakeholders must be thoughtful.”

When I spoke with Barbara she shared that leadership is “tough to measure.” But leadership and relationships will make or break a company’s success. Trust translates to contracts, winning the deal and new business.

As leader of a Strategic Partnership Channel (formerly known as the vendor management organization) I offer big, un-written, and un-articulated rules that work best in our strategic partnerships. These norms apply to both sides of the relationship. I start and end relationships based on trust.

12 Keys to Trusted Strategic Partnerships

  1. Really understand one another’s business
  2. Invest in connecting as human beings beyond the business role
  3. Know how you each make money
  4. Tell the truth (even when it’s awkward, embarrassing, or could cost you business)
  5. Don’t commit to more than you can do well (repeat this one 3 times)
  6. Don’t play games… EVER
  7. Don’t wine and dine… the best deals are done over chopsticks or a long walk
  8. Lose some battles, admit when you’re wrong
  9. Let logic prevail, even when contracts are on “your side”
  10. Don’t sweat the small stuff
  11. Think long-term
  12. Reward trusted partnerships with more business/effort

This list applies to business partnerships and just about any partnership you can think of. Please share your views.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Mike Henry Sr.

    Great list and a favorite subject. One I might add is “Manage and respect boundaries.” We must know what we shouldn’t be doing and what we won’t do. This is very close to “Lose some battles…” We must protect the boundaries in the strategic partnership for the benefit of the partnership.

    Thanks for the challenging, thoughtful post. Mike…

    • letsgrowleaders

      Mike, So great to see you here. Managing boundaries well is vital. A great one to add to the list.

  2. Dan Nagel

    Trusted Strategic Partnerships are so instrumental to our business. These 12 components are a great approach.

    Getting over having to “win” each and every time can be a barrier. Also, making yourself and your business vulnerable can be a scary thing, but doing it in a genuine way can build a great foundation of trust.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Dan, Thanks. Agreed… doing this right does require being vulnerable.

  3. Matt McWilliams

    I love #7.

    Wining and dining is so 1990s. It screams “I’M TRYING REALLY HARD TO IMPRESS YOU, PLEASE LIKE ME!”

    Don’t be cheap, always get the bill, but you can do some seriously good business at a local hideaway or coffeeshop.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Matt, Agree. It makes it a lot more comfortable to accept the gesture when it’s low key.

  4. Barbara Kimmel

    Karin- this is a great list. I would expand on #5- Be accountable. Don’t EVER say you will do something and then not follow through. That’s my #1 trust buster! Barbara

    • letsgrowleaders

      Barbara, exactly! Always do what you say. The best way to gain and keep trust.

  5. Jim Ryan

    I see that stockphoto you used all the time and it bugs me, because I climb and no climber would ever reach down to help another climber like that. There is an unspoken rule that you never physically help another climber. If one of you falls you would pull the other person off with you.

    You keep each person safe by using a rope tied between you that you never untie while climbing. And that rope is always secured to the wall you are climbing.

    I have learned alot by tieing in with climbing partners I didn’t vet properly. Same with tieing in with bad strategic partners.

    Great post Karin.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Jim, Great point. I changed the pic 😉 I should know better, I’ve been climbing… what a great analogy. In that case, it’s truely life or death.

  6. Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

    I love this list! It helps me to understand why I trust some people while others trigger my “spidey sense.”

    • letsgrowleaders

      Renee, Thanks so much. Yeah, intuition helps too. Trust that bad (or good) feeling and dig deeper 😉

  7. Steve Borek

    I rely on intuition to tell me if this person is someone I want to do business with.

    Same is true for coaching clients. When I do a consultation, yes, the prospective client is evaluating me. I’m also evaluating them for many factors: mostly coachability and character.

    I love this quote by the Oracle of Omaha. Pretty much says it all.

    “You can’t make a good deal with a bad person.” Warren Buffet

    • letsgrowleaders

      Steve, Great quote! Totally agree. Sounds like you’re with Renee in using your “spidey sense”

  8. Joy Guthrie

    There is a company that I worked with in the past that really focused on building trusted partnerships with the companies they did business with. They replaced penalties in contracts with bonuses. The trusted partners were invited into basic staff meetings and treated like company members. Things were going really well. The very top leadership changed and literally everything fell apart. There was a focus on the numbers, on the value of each contract. At renegotiation time, the notion of partnership was replaced with lowest cost. People felt really burned all around. Almost the entire director level and above leadership are now gone from the company. Like any trusted relationship, it takes continuous work to keep it going.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Joy, You raise such an important point. I have seen both styles and the implications. It really begins at the relationship at the top. Building trust is an ongoing process.

  9. Steve Broe

    Nicely reviewed, Karin! Trust is a deeper bond than legal commitments. It seems that in Oriental cultures this philosophy is understood, and it takes much longer to begin a business relationship as a result. Once begun with trust, however, leaders don’t have to look to the rules, they look to equity. I like your approach.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Steve, Thanks for bringing in the cultural component. I so agree, this stuff takes time.

  10. Lolly Daskal

    Love your list.

    And I would add. Follow your heart.

    Thanks so much for sharing important information on a topic I am very passionate about.

    I #trust you are well.


    • letsgrowleaders

      Lolly, Agree, your heart can tell you much in such circumstances.

  11. Alma Escamilla

    Many times I’m on the “entrusted partner” team. My list includes doing the right thing when no one is looking and we don’t always have to make it known, if you’re consistent there is no need for a parade. Lolly added “Follow your heart”. I enjoy that remark, there is something to be said about instinct and going with your gut. Lastly, if a partner brings ideas, opportunities or faults to the table without being asked, it could speak to their “thoughtful” leadership style. I found wisdom in each comment. Thanks everyone and Thanks Karin for the topic.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Alma, YES! great add… doing the right thing when no one is looking. Indeed important. Being truly open to hear ideas from both sides is all part of the magic.

  12. Alli Polin

    Fantastic list and all are critical! I was nodding along with each one. Two that stood out to me are #4 – Tell the Truth and #11 Think Longterm. I used to get proposals all the time from prospective contractors and business partners. I’ve seen many potential partners think that by lowballing on price they’ll get in and win in the long term but two things happen. 1) If we wanted more, the dollars quickly piled on 2) They won on price for round one but were unable to successfully put in an “honest” bid for future work.

    Will be sharing! Thanks, Karin!

    • Karin Hurt

      Alli, I get those proposals too. Bait and switch, or low ball and add on… makes me crazy. Be real with what you are about, what you offer, what you can do now, and what you can do next. Great add.

  13. LaRae Quy

    Great post, Karin. I agree with you that engaging stakeholders in rich thoughtful conversations is key.

    The point that resonated the most with me was : don’t wine and dine. More is accomplished over chopsticks or a walk. I’ve always found that knee-to-knee and nose-to-nose conversations are the most productive!

    • letsgrowleaders

      Larae, I so agree with you. It’s so important to connect as human beings.

  14. Terri Klass

    Loved your post and 12 points, Karin!

    I especially related to #1- Really understand one another’s business. When distrust arises between people and organizations or departments, I have noticed that there is oftentimes a misunderstanding of what each of their responsibilities looks like. Recently I saw this when one department kept blaming another for not making a joint task a priority. Once they spoke about the issues, they both learned more about their different job responsibilities. Understanding is critical.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Terri, Terrific examples. Thanks so much. Seeking to understand makes all the difference.

  15. David Hain

    Terrific article Karen, building trust is much more challenging than writing contracts. Over here because of financial austerity, partnerships have been all the rage. A cynical but too often realistic view of the result? “Partnerships consist of organisations who have suspended mutual loathing in headlong pursuit of funding”. The big investment is in relationships and due diligence here is often lacking.

    One thing I might add as a result is ‘address issues of baggage and stereotype”. Many partners have had previous relationships, or heard of previous rumours, and often they act on the rumour or stereotype rather than exploring the current motives.

    In a world where collaborative leadership is going to be increasingly critical to manage issues big and small, this is such an important list!

    • letsgrowleaders

      David, Thanks for expanding the conversation with your important insights. You raise several vital issues. Due diligence is so important as is not relying on stereotypes of old news. I find it best to form my own opinions. I’ve also had some partnerships with “baggage” turn things around in amazing ways. Staying open to what is actually happening with a careful but open mind is so important.

  16. Etizaz Samman

    Great List Karin! I Love it! I would add Be Authentic, Accessible and Transparent and Open for Feedback.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Etizaz, Awesome addition. Thanks so much!

  17. Sue Bock

    I’d like to add one more to your list of 12 for a baker’s dozen. Synergy in your goals. I started a partnership with 2 other women for Women in Transition… We partnered because it just seemed right. We don’t know exactly how and why it works, but it does. The collaboration is amazing and rewarding.

    Sue Bock

    • letsgrowleaders

      Sue, So glad your in great collaboration! I love that feeling. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  18. Joe Maggiore

    Great list – very insightful.

    Three comments

    I have an addition, Don’t wait for tomorrow to get it done.
    Be open, honest, truthful, and share the vision and the plans of the Company with the employees and do it now. This is critical.

    I am most interested in the Don’t commit to more then you can do. How do you rationally provide that feedback to your manager without the manager looking upon you in a negative way. If anyone has feedback on this – please share. I am sure everyone would benefit.

    I especially like Etizaz additionas to the list. Awesome.

    May I suggest another good read… P.E.P.P. by Chad Carden.


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