Co-leadership is a model of operating a business where there are two people who are in charge instead of just one. The leaders involved will take a split-task approach to the responsibilities of leading the company, creating an advantage because each leader can focus on their strengths.
The San Francisco Chronicle uses this example.
Spreading the responsibility offers support to co-leaders. A new businessman with an engineering background may benefit from having a co-leader with a strong business background.
As with any business structure, there are certain advantages and disadvantages to co-leadership which must be considered. A collaborative effort may be hard, creating conflicts along the way, while allowing for smarter collaboration opportunities to create strategic results.
List of the Advantages of Co-Leadership
1. It flattens out the hierarchy of the organization.
When there are co-leaders in place to lead a company, then less emphasis is placed on the actual chain-of-command in the company. When everyone involved has an opportunity to be a leader in their own way, the company benefits because everyone is paired and supported by everyone else. That means there are more opportunities for personal growth and creativity, as there are fewer hierarchy restrictions in place.
2. Co-leadership can grow company revenues quickly.
When there are fewer artificial blocks put in place that affect personal job performance, employees have more opportunities to grow. When there are more growth opportunities in place, the revenue growth opportunities for the company improve as well. To generate these benefits, co-leaders need to work in a way where their contrasts can be used in a complementary way, creating a synergy which allows for maximum productivity.
3. It creates added diversity into the company and brand.
Diversity helps a company to grow as well. With different personalities, experiences, and perspectives available within the leadership core of a business, there are more opportunities to find for growth. Although differences in personality can create conflict triggers, if they are effectively managed, the depth of conversations, ideas, and creative moments will generally make the company better.
4. Logistics are improved with a co-leadership dynamic.
When there are two leaders running a company, the responsibilities of leadership can be split to allow those with the most strengths in each specific area where some work needs to be done. That makes the logistics of moving forward easier for the company because there is more overall availability. Even something as simple as meeting availability improves when there is a co-leadership structure in place. Because of the positional equality, progress can be made even if one of the leaders is not available for some reason.
5. It provides more feedback to each employee.
Co-leaders will invariably look at each situation with a unique perspective. That gives employees two or more forms of feedback to utilize for personal improvement instead of just one. A co-leadership structure offers more sets of eyes that can identify potential problems, evaluate situations, or offer ideas because one person can lead out with their strengths instead of trying to shore up their weaknesses to be effective.
6. Co-leadership can increase productivity at the top of the business.
Think about co-leadership like this. You have a group of 10 boys. Half of them like to play football. The other half like to play basketball. When there are two leaders in place, the needs of all the employees can be met. One leader plays football while the other employee plays basketball. Now take that process to needs in the business world, like recruiting, employee development, budget structuring, and all the other daily operations that a successful business requires. More areas of the business receive personal attention from the leadership, which means there are fewer chances for something to go overlooked.
List of the Disadvantages of Co-Leadership
1. There can be incompatibility within the leadership group.
For co-leadership to be effective, there must be compatible leadership styles in place within the organization. Without compatibility, the co-leaders will send mixed messages to their employees. This issue often comes up when one leader has a more authoritarian leadership style when compared to the other leader. That causes employees to tailor their responses to each leadership style, which creates confusion within each role.
2. It creates blame that applies to everyone.
Even if one leader isn’t involved in a specific failure in the business, a co-leadership team shares the blame all the time. That is because the employees in the business see co-leaders as a single CEO for their business. If one of the co-leaders decides to pursue something that is unethical, or they make a mistake on a project, then those negative actions will be assigned to the other co-leader as well. That can make one leader feel helpless about the problems which exist.
3. There can be an imbalance with the corporate vision.
Some co-leaders may have a different level of commitment to the business than others. That act alone can create an imbalance within the leadership relationship. If there are dissimilar goals which are being pursued, the balance of the company will be affected as well. Disagreements occur frequently within a co-leadership arrangement unless everyone involved is committed to the future of the company, which can affect its overall progress.
4. It may create a strain on workplace morale.
Co-leadership relationships become strained over time if one leader has a greater skillset than the other. If the pay levels for all parties are equal, but the skill levels are unequal, then resentment tends to build into the relationship over time. Resentment can also build in a co-leadership arrangement when one person is committed to the company, while the other person is committed to earning a paycheck. When this relationship is strained, the morale of all other employees tends to dip lower as well.
5. There are increased expenses for the company.
In a co-leadership arrangement, the company will usually compensate each leader in a similar way. Although the split responsibilities create a lower overall salary for each leader when compared to what a traditional CEO would earn, the combined costs of labor and benefits tend to be higher than if one person was at the reins. When a company is first starting out, this kind of arrangement can tighten the margins found in the budget, making it more difficult for profits to be obtained.
6. It may create confusion in the workplace.
Employees working in a co-leadership situation will technically report to both individuals. If there is a difference in opinion between the two leaders, the direct reports may be unsure about who should receive information updates about a project. Many employees find themselves caught in the middle of these disagreements as well, which often leads to reduced productivity levels until the disagreement can be resolved. This setup may also create two separate sets of instructions for the employees to follow which may be contrary to each other.’
7. Decision-making processes are increased.
Organizations which focus on co-leadership are less nimble when it comes time to make an immediate decision. That is because everyone in the leadership must be able to give their input before moving forward. If the business is a fast-paced environment and immediate decisions must be made, then having just one leader responsible for decisions can help the company move faster than one with 2+ leaders at the helm. Some of this issue can be offset by having defined responsibilities and necessary actions outlined during a worst-case scenario issue, but there will always be times when one head might be better than two.
8. Some split responsibility structures place too much power in one person.
There are certain leadership responsibilities which naturally have more power than others. Duties that involve the setting of the strategic direction of the company, investment choices, or choosing key employees would place one leader in a superior position over another leader. Unless the power structures are equitable in these power roles, a company may find that one of the co-leaders is a CEO in name only. That can create high levels of resentment if pay levels are equal, which creates even more stress in the workplace.
These co-leadership advantages and disadvantages tend to focus on the relationship that is present between those involved. When this relationship is cooperative and equal in talent and skill, then the company and its employees benefit from its presence. If there are differences in the vision for the company, or there are gaps in a skill set which remain unresolved, then the company may find itself at a disadvantage.