“Co-CEO… how’s that going for you?” This is a question I’ve been asked many times in my first six months sharing the helm of fast-growing cloud software engineering company, Kablamo.
Typically, the tone of the question gives away the enquirer’s underlying scepticism, but I get it. It’s an unorthodox leadership model, so it’s understandable that people are curious about it.
Historically, most famous CEOs are associated with an enduring personal brand, a big ego, strong individual decision-making skills, exceptional intelligence, and “star player” brilliance. None of these traditional CEO characteristics can be divided in two.
Also, it is more natural for humans to seek power than to share it. And I think this is the main reason so many people ask me about the Co-CEO model.
Honestly, I was nervous when I decided to join Kablamo as Co-CEO, sharing the CEO duties with the Founder, Allan. I was nervous because our decision to adopt an uncommon, shared leadership model put at stake the experience and engagement of our wonderful Kablamo team. I was also nervous because our commitment was public… and I hate to fail. (There’s still ego as a Co-CEO!)
Almost six months into the journey at Kablamo, I now believe that the Co-CEO model can bring more benefit to an organisation than the single CEO model. The reason why Co-CEOs can be even more effective than an individual CEO can be summed up in one word – Diversity.
That said, having Co-CEOs would not work for every business. There are essential factors that two (or more) leaders need to make a Co-CEO model work, and fortunately Allan and I seem to have them. From my experience, here are the most important characteristics Co-CEOs need to make the combination a success:
Share common values: This is non-negotiable. Co CEOs must have common principles for how to treat people, how to behave, and what type of company and culture they want to build.
Embrace your differences: Here’s where the power of diversity between Co CEOs can beat individual CEO brilliance. For example, at Kablamo, Allan brings the creativity and technical vision to our team and my strengths are more organisational and strategic. Our skills compliment each other and allow us to focus on the aspects of the role in which we both excel.
Communicate again and again: Open, honest and regular communication between the Co-CEOs and the rest of the team is imperative. Importantly, the feedback loop between Co-CEOs needs to be direct, and as close to real-time as possible.
Trust each other: This is also non-negotiable. Once trust is gone, the Co-CEO combination is dead. I deliberately put this point last because, by doing the three former points well, Co-CEOs dramatically improve their chances of maintaining trust.
Allan and I are only at the start of our Co-CEO journey together at Kablamo but, so far, the signs are good. With each new customer win, with each conflict resolved, with each new hire, and with each great customer outcome, our Co-CEO partnership becomes stronger. (It also helps that we have an outstanding team of leaders, visionaries and thinkers at Kablamo to support us.)
At Kablamo, we strive to “Make with Heart and Mind”. So long as we both make decisions and act in line with this value, I am confident that both our Co-CEO combination, and Kablamo itself, have a very bright future.