What do you envision when you hear the term “co-leadership”? Do you immediately see an image of a team sharing ideas, collaborating and creating together? Or, do you see two individuals sharing responsibilities and leadership of a team? Perhaps you are completely unfamiliar with the idea of co-leadership.
Even if co-leadership seems like a relatively new concept, the idea of leading together has a long history. Whether you were aware of it or not, you have likely seen co-leadership play out in some form. In your personal life you may have served on a committee with co-chairs. Perhaps you have worked in an organization during a transition when the outgoing president and the incoming president shared the lead role for a period of time. Our government even utilizes the concept of co-leadership in the President and Vice-President structure. Co-leadership is certainly a part of the fabric of our society and something you are likely to encounter in either your personal or professional life. It is only increasing in frequency as the youngest generation, which places a high value on collaboration, begins to step into leadership roles.
Despite the prevalence of co-leadership, there are, at times, somewhat mixed opinions about the process and results of co-leadership. However, when well-executed co-leadership can be a dynamic strategy with incredible results.
What can we do to ensure that we maximize the benefits and minimize the difficulties of co-leadership?
1. Enter with humble confidence. It is important to reflect before entering into a co-leadership position. Remind yourself what it is that you bring to the table and be confident in those skills and attributes. However, it is important to temper that confidence with humility. Remember that you do not have all of the answers. Co-leadership is an opportunity to bring complimentary skills and talents to the leadership position. Start from a place of trust rather than competition.
2. Take a learning stance. Be sure to take the opportunity to learn about the position, about yourself and about the other person you will be leading with. Embrace any differences you encounter. These are what make co-leadership so exciting and powerful. As you learn to embrace these differing points of view, you both will be challenged and stretched in creative and productive ways that you never imagined.
3. Set clear expectations. From the beginning it is critical to discuss the expectations of all parties involved including all co-leaders and the organization. This includes topics like roles, responsibilities and conflict management. Use these discussions to craft a clear set of boundaries, parameters and expectations. This way all will start on the same page and will be headed in the same direction.
4. Maintain open communication. In order to build a successful co-leadership situation, it is important to keep all lines of communication open and honest. Especially between the co-leaders. In co-leadership the only way to be successful is to respect each other and to work together as a team. This does not mean that you must agree at all turns and become best friends. Perhaps the best method for you might be to divide tasks and focus on separate items. However, you will still need to maintain respect and communication as you continue to co-lead the same team.
5. Build in assessment and feedback time. It is important to evaluate the challenges and successes of the co-leadership structure regularly. Learn from all parties. Ask what is working well and what needs improvement. This is also a good time to evaluate the vision for the future. It is wise to make adjustments as needed in order to move forward with clarity and purpose.