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Bringing the ‘buddy system’ to business

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By Johanne Bouchard
Explore Big Sky Business Columnist

In backcountry skiing, one of the safety precautions we take is skiing with a buddy. This practice ensures that you and your partner have a reciprocal responsibility for each other’s wellbeing and safety. Should one of you get hurt, lose a ski, or end up in a tree well, the other is there to provide assistance or go for help.

While snowcat skiing recently with my buddy – my husband – I realized that this system would be of immeasurable value to business leaders as well. Many have legal advisors, management consultants, domain experts, and coaches they can turn to for guidance, but these professionals might also benefit from developing a strategic relationship with a peer.

Having a buddy can be the difference between life and death in the mountains, and it can make a great impact on your leadership journey as you confront challenges, achieve milestones and celebrate success.

Here are some ideas to make the buddy system work for you in business:

Choose your buddy wisely. This person should be someone you trust and respect for their leadership and/or entrepreneurship skills, and for what they’ve achieved or learned by overcoming pitfalls. You should relate to each other’s aspirations and inspiration, and they should be someone with whom you can be vulnerable and honest. You need to feel comfortable reciprocating too.

Make a verbal contract. Define the parameters of your relationship, and how confidential your exchanges should be. For example: Does anyone need to know that you are each other’s buddy? How often will you meet? How will your meetings be structured, and what are you intending to achieve? Agree that each of you will get equal time to share, brainstorm and support each other.

Don’t hesitate to reach out. What’s the point of having someone available to talk to if you don’t capitalize on it? If you’ve agreed to be there for each other during a crisis, you need to commit to be available and to share and sustain the relationship – whether you need solutions or just a sympathetic ear.

Be a good buddy. The buddy system is a two-way commitment. You’ve agreed to be there for someone else, and although there may be times when your buddy’s need isn’t convenient, that’s part of the deal. Remember that part of being a good buddy is going for help – if you’re not the best resource for the situation, you might know someone who is.

I had an entrepreneur friend I ran hills with every Sunday for more than 15 years. Our agreement included being punctual, deciding together which side of the hill we would start with, and alternating weekly which one would first report on her business as we ran. If one was dealing with a crisis or something pressing, she might get more attention one week; it was exactly why we ran together.

While our businesses were different, we dealt with similar growing pains, human resource challenges and successes in leading and managing our businesses. We felt empowered and inspired after we parted each week. Our friendship solidified, our businesses thrived, and we cared for the other to be fulfilled and succeed. All of this was achieved while doing something we both love.

It’s natural for people to have a buddy during the earlier phases of their careers, but as they take on increasing responsibility as they move into leadership roles, it’s easy to become isolated and lose the habit of seeking support. Leaders can also get caught up in mentoring, leading and taking charge, missing out on the benefits of just being an equal peer.

You don’t have to ski the mountain alone. And when you ski Big Sky Resort’s Big Couloir for the first time, take a trusted buddy with you.

Johanne Bouchard, a former high-tech executive, is a leadership advisor to CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs, as well as an expert in corporate board composition and dynamics. An avid skier, Bouchard and her husband have a second home in Big Sky. See more at

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