It’s time to bust the “big man” myth, that rusty, outdated notion that a smart person (usually a white male) should run a company or a country.
The world is complex. Many of the problems we face have no precedent. We need teams of talented leaders and co-leaders working together to untangle complexities, find new ways of doing things, and accomplish complicated tasks.
In other words, we need co-leadership.
Co-management consists of two or more people in charge of a team or group. Co-leaders share ownership of their team’s goals while distributing roles and responsibilities. Effective co-leaders create a partnership with those they work with based on trust and respect. They resolve differences with people who may be very different from them but who are still rooted in a deep common ground of values, vision and what they believe is possible through their mutual work.
The key is to put this partnership in place to succeed. While there are many examples of shared leadership, that doesn’t mean they automatically deliver on the promise of co-leadership.
As Brian Scudmore, CEO of O2E Brands points out, “Dynamic duos are everywhere you look – in pop culture, history and on the big screen. Some of them, like Batman and Robin, have the potential to change the world. Others, like Jekyll and Hyde, are a recipe for disaster. It’s the same in business: bad partnerships can drag you down, but good ones are like magic. »
The magic of successful co-leadership
What my team and I see in teams and organizations is that working together at a higher level – what we call collaboration and partnership – works. I also know this from my own experience. My business partner and I have been part of a 20 year co-leadership experiment and learned a thing or two about what makes it work.
Here is the best of what our co-leadership has made possible:
- We are a safe sounding board for ideas. We manage just about everything through each other. Sometimes I can hear my own bad idea just by saying it out loud. Other times, my co-leader tells me. This verification process leads us to more creative and strategic solutions for our business.
- Our company benefits from the duality that we bring, good cop/bad cop, optimist/pessimist, idealist/pragmatic, etc. We are rarely on the same side of these dualities. But that doesn’t mean we’re pitted against each other. Simply that together we have a broad perspective that includes and is served by these polarities.
- Our partnership primarily eliminates the isolation and loneliness often felt by many executives. We had a lot of fun working together and lightened the load of the tough and gross things that come with growing up.
- Our friendship and working partnership challenges us to grow in ways that matter to growing a business. We are better because of others. I’m a fan of work that helps make you a better person. If you’ve read what I post, you also know that becoming more self-aware and aware matters to my worldview. I believe that, more often than not, great leaders have an open mind and heart. They are better humans and citizens.
Together we have more resilience and motivation — because there are two of us. When one is down, the other is up. We remember big ideas and help us get back on our feet. We relieve ourselves when the going gets tough.
Co-leadership asks more of leaders than the “command and control” style. You need to give and receive clear feedback. You need to express your expectations. You must be responsible for your actions and what you said you would do. You must learn to communicate more effectively. You must learn to manage conflict in the healthiest way possible without falling into gossip or forming coalitions. You must learn to share power and privilege, as well as breakdowns and failures. It’s all about learning and development.
A two-in-one model doubles your capacity for creativity and innovation. Co-leadership can be forged between CEO and COO, where power sharing and accountability are equal. And co-leadership can look like “three in a box” or “four in a box”. Think bigger than one.
Of course, there are downsides. Sometimes we slow down decision making. The weaknesses we each bring can become obstacles to our success. Sometimes our co-management is confusing for our team, which only wants one point of contact. Being much more comfortable with the outdated style of leadership, they want to know who’s in charge here.
Even with these drawbacks, I invite you to consider co-leadership. Co-lead a business or team with someone you trust. It will expose all your strengths and weaknesses. Your precious beliefs will be questioned and, at times, deemed insufficient. Your view of the world may be challenged. You will have to give up some bad habits and cultivate better ones. This is all good work, in my opinion. You will be a better human and citizen.