Organizations interact with many, many external factors every day, and each one has a certain impact — large or small — on the health of your operation.

Partners are one of the most impactful factors. Good partners lift your company and employees, but less-than-stellar business partners can put many things at risk, whether that’s relationships with other partners, the company’s financial health, or the motivation and morale of employees. Ultimately, toxic business relationships are most harmful to your company’s purpose.

It’s easy to overlook the pernicious threat bad partners pose to your business’s purpose, but as a business leader, you can’t afford to take this lightly.

How Bad Partners Affect a Company’s Purpose

When you expose your team and your processes to a partner who doesn’t share your values, motivations, or principles, the experience can go one of two ways: The relationship itself can turn sour, or a prolonged partnership will slowly but surely weaken your ability to fulfill your company’s purpose. In the long run, this endangers your long-term sustainability.

When a company works regularly with partners without a common purpose, it’s not just internal workings that take a hit. Stress can seep into the company’s outward image and tarnish its reputation with customers and other partners.

Starting on the right foot with each new business partner is crucial — both the partner and the business should feel a shared sense of purpose so they can create a mutually beneficial relationship.

3 Warning Signs Signaling a Bad Partner

Just one bad business partner can have lasting consequences, so it’s important to spot the signs of a potentially toxic relationship early on. Here are three behaviors from partners that should set off alarm bells:

1. They’re obsessed with telling you what they want.

Sure, you need to address logistics at the beginning of a business relationship. But a prospective partner who seems overly motivated and pushes for what they want first often turns out to lack purpose alignment further down the line.

Keep an eye out for partners who spend initial conversations offering only their perspective, as this could signal that they operate with an “I win, you lose” mentality. Try turning these discussions back to your shared mission. If they won’t hear you out, it’s probably time to move in a new direction.

2. They surround themselves with the wrong people.

Sometimes, an opportunity emerges through a referral or an online connection. You might even progress to a full business relationship without ever meeting anyone on the partner’s team, which makes determining purpose alignment a challenge.

We learned this the hard way. A great client of ours recently moved to a role in a new company and invited us to come along and support him there. Because we trusted our partnership with him, we implicitly assumed that he’d made a good choice in the firm he joined.

The culture at his new firm turned out to be toxic — totally at odds with our own. To continue would have meant sacrificing our sense of purpose. This would come at the expense of the people on the projects, so we had no choice but to end the relationship there. We also had to do this in a way that supported our client and maintained our integrity in living up to our purpose.

Don’t waste time and energy on a partnership that never should have happened in the first place. Take the time to match up your missions and communicate what you’re looking for as effectively as you can.

3. They only talk the talk.

Some partners’ purposes could appear to be aligned with yours at first. But in time, they reveal that the missions they seemed so proud of were just pipe dreams or superficial talking points. This can be extremely damaging to your own company’s purpose. Soon, you might find that your partners’ actions fail to live up to their statements, and they could engage in business practices that go against what you believe in.

Pass on prospective partners who tell a story of purpose but have little strategy in place for how they’ll achieve it. Make sure they can list at least three actions they’re taking to realize their purpose before you sign on.

Purpose defines your company. Partnerships can hone it even more by enriching that purpose and spreading it. As a business leader, though, your challenge is to stay true to your company’s beliefs. If a prospective partner fails to match up with the purpose you’ve crafted so carefully, politely stepping away from the negotiating table early on will save you from countless future headaches.

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