Often there are times when leaders find themselves in a co-leadership position, that is, they have a partner who is an equal leader to direct a project or team. Typically, this system is agreed upon to fill a skill gap or lighten the load of responsibility, task management, etc.
In my experience, co-leadership rarely works well and should be avoided. There is a reason you don’t have two CEOs in a company or two Head Coaches on a sports team or two Captains on a ship or two Prime Ministers. As stuffy as a hierarchy can feel, they are needed for effective leadership.
On an expedition, our leadership team usually consisted of 2 to 4 expedition leaders but there was always one (as NOLS calls it) Course Leader. Like a CEO or Project Manager, the course leader was the one ultimately responsible for the successful completion of the expedition.
Leaders can’t perform their role without a strong support from a leadership team and their followers. Many times, it may not even be clear to the client or public who the senior leader is because of the tremendous support they receive but when major change is required, a new vision is set, or a critical decision needs to be made, one clear leader needs to become apparent, and that is when she steps up.
5 reasons you don’t want a co-leader:
- One leader needs to make the final decisions in a crises or disagreement
- One leader needs to be the clear visionary
- One leader has to ultimately be accountable and responsible
- One leader needs to always have the big picture in mind
- One leader needs to be a liaison for stakeholders
These reasons are why so many business partnerships fail. If you must work in a co-leadership setting, it is paramount that you decide on a decision-making protocol at the start of your relationship.
Even in the complex world of business mergers, large companies are avoiding the co-leadership title. In an article titled Co-Anchoring Viacom: Will It Work?, Warren Bennis, Professor of Management at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, states that “When you look at the proliferation of the C-word—the CEO, the COO, the CKO, the CFO, the CLO, the CIO – those are simply examples of how top corporate executives must share responsibilities.”
Even when there seems to be co-leading taking place the most successful organizations and teams have a decision-making process in place that prevents the dreaded deadlock.
If you do find yourself in a co-leadership situation, such as parenting, and you have decisions to make, I suggest 3 tips to ease the burden of decision-making:
- Let the person with more experience in the situation make the final decision.
- Let the person who is more invested or passionate about the outcome make the decision.
- If you are still locked in a decision-making battle, resort to flipping a coin, arm wrestling or my favourite Rock Paper Scissors, two out of three of course.