In business leadership, the conventional wisdom is that one person should be the driving force. Any alternative leadership structure typically is met with eyebrows raised high. As a co-chief executive, it’s the reaction I was expecting...
In business leadership, the conventional wisdom is that one person should be the driving force. The chief executive — that almost omnipotent person at the top of the organisational structure — holds the reins. Every success and failure, every brilliant corporate turnaround or dismal quarterly result, rests on their shoulders.
Any alternative leadership structure typically is met with eyebrows raised high.
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That has been my experience since joining Kablamo, a digital product engineering firm, as co-chief executive last year, and it’s the reaction I was expecting.
At first I was apprehensive of sharing the chief executive role with founder Allan Waddell, but 12 months on this shared leadership model is paying dividends.
Stepping into a role where I would be making decisions 50:50 with another chief executive was a challenge I had never faced. Not many have.
Not only would I be sharing leadership responsibilities with the firm’s founder — a daunting proposition — but we were also such different personalities, with our own wildly different working styles and areas of expertise.
We even sat a Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument test, a system designed to measure and describe thinking preferences in people. Our scores varied accordingly. Allan was the off-the-charts outlier in creativity and vision, while my results skewed towards analytical and logical thinking.
Human instinct being what it is, the initial reaction is to push away from this kind of personal difference, particularly when you’ll be sharing leadership.
The differences in our styles are so pronounced that we’ve started referring to our leadership structure as the “odd couple model”. While one might think having such different personalities occupy the co-chief executive roles would be a recipe for disaster and discord, it’s one part of the arrangement that has made the model work so well for us.
Because of these differences, we each have clearly defined areas of responsibility. This clear delineation is critical for the shared leadership model to work. If we both had the same strengths and personalities, it would be difficult to divide responsibilities without some measure of resentment from one side or the other.
While the stark differences between us caused initial trepidation, there are key similarities we’ve found vital to making this leadership structure work.
Consider a Venn diagram. In the outer areas of both circles you have all the characteristics and idiosyncrasies that define our differences. But right at the centre, where the circles overlap, is where both leaders must be in alignment. These are fundamental. If the shared leadership model is to work, these are non-negotiable. These are each leader’s values.
For anyone considering the co-chief executive model, these shared values are absolutely critical. In our case, we have complete alignment on the type of business we want to build, how we want to treat people and how we want to be treated in return. We want to build a good business, not just a financially successful one. We’d rather walk away than build a company with a depressing, transactional culture filled with uninspired people who are there only for the money.
Knowing there’s absolutely no disconnect on these essential values convinced me to take the leap. Leaders who find themselves in a similar situation need to reflect on whether there’s alignment on these core values.