Why co-leadership makes CPCS a better company
Being co-managing partners has made us more productive and work more fun. As a duo leading a global team of 150 people, we feel we have a better work-life situation than probably most solo CEOs.
In 2018, we pitched the idea of co-leadership to our Board of Directors when CPCS started looking for its next CEO.
Some people in our circles told us it was a bad idea, risky and going to fail. We had doubts ourselves knowing that co-leadership isn’t the norm and that most of what’s in business literature is based on one chief’s authority and accountability.
Nonetheless, our Board took a chance and made us co-managing partners. It’s now 2022, and we know it was a good move for the company. For us, co-leadership has been a source of great value.
Why co-leadership as a management solution?
It’s often said that being CEO is “lonely at the top.”
Co-leadership means having two heads to reflect on important decisions and to work through challenging situations. It’s also two sets of shoulders to carry the weight of building and running a global organization. There’s comfort in having open, joint discussions without the risk of rupturing hierarchical sensitivities. Decisions are shared whether they turn out good or bad.
Complementary skill sets and interests like ours is akin to a Super CEO.
While one of us focuses on long-term, the other is more tactical, better with numbers and more talented at handling conflict. This allows us to benefit from each other’s strengths by sharing responsibilities while exchanging on all major decisions and trading off based on the context.
There’s no magic formula for this. It’s whatever plays up to each other’s strengths, interests and passions and translates this into value.
There also needs to be a willingness to park ego at the door. We both have our weaknesses, so we work to jointly mitigate our respective limitations using a tag team approach.
A more resilient leadership
We find co-leadership is a more resilient management solution. If either of us needs to step away from work for some time, continuity at the top won’t be jeopardized. Moreover, we can regularly trade off responsibilities to accommodate work and life demands.
For example, it could be for a busy project deliverable one week, sickness another, or other emergent demands at home. It’s nice to be able to go off on vacation and unplug!
Co-leadership has increased leadership interactions across the company and opened more avenues for our colleagues to be meaningfully heard.
Employees may have an easier time connecting with one of us rather than the other, and having this option increases the likelihood that people contact us when needed.
It also improves trust in decision-making, as colleagues are less likely to personalize a leadership decision, since they know it’s the result of a consensus between two different leadership styles.
Co-leadership is more fun too. We invest more time thinking strategically or dealing with high-stake matters. We enjoy the interactions, and it leads to better, more confident decisions.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we met monthly outside of work to explore bold ideas without the pressure of a schedule or agenda. And sometimes, we just spend time getting to know each other better.
On the flip side, co-leadership has its risks. We note three and how we’ve addressed them.
What if there’s more overlap than complementarity in skills and interests? What if working styles clash? What if two people just don’t get along?
Some of this can be avoided by carefully considering co-leader pairings and jointly setting expectations. Any leader must learn to adapt and work with others productively and any serious effort to hone this adaptability, in our view, is good. The best formula may be to open the door for a voluntary pairing rather than prescribing partners in a co-leadership arrangement.
Diluted accountability is a commonly cited reason to fear co-leadership. In our case, we’re both accountable to our Board of Directors, to our management team and to the company. It’s implied in our co-leadership, and we act this way in our interactions.
Unclear lines of reporting
Co-leadership can muddle the lines of reporting and communication.
We’ve largely mitigated this by clearly documenting and communicating reporting lines throughout the company and playing our roles accordingly. This doesn’t mean that reporting lines are rigid. As the company has evolved, we’ve adjusted areas of responsibility and organizational reporting.
We do this collaboratively and with a view on broader corporate goals rather than protecting each’s turf.
Communications have also been clear and fluid. When we’re in meetings with our Board or management team, for example, we typically each lead our areas of respective responsibility, but we both contribute where we have something to say. We joke that we are one person in two bodies.
Co-leadership is feasible
For co-leadership to work well, it takes effort, clear expectations, flexibility, trust and regular communication.
We have only a wall between our offices, and we communicate constantly, even if only to check in or share what’s on our mind.
It’s clear to us the pros of co-leadership outweigh the cons. It has worked well for us and has been more fun. It’s not to say that co-leadership is always easy, but neither is the role of a CEO.
We believe two heads are better than one, and this is why co-leadership makes CPCS a better company.
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