Two swords in one scabbard?
In 1999, the publication of ‘Co-Leaders: The Power of Great Partnerships’ by David Heenan and Warren Bennis, presaged a new way of thinking about corporate leadership. This thinking broke with the traditional concept of leadership and called it more as an institutional trait than an individual trait. Evolving with years, leadership has taken form of a team sport. Organizations have learnt the hard way that no one individual can save a company from mediocre performance and no one individual, no matter how capable, can be right all the time. Company heads have started to believe in, ‘None of us is as smart as all of us’.
There can be a variety of situation in which organizations may consider joint CEOs. The most common ones are, in a merger and acquisition situation, a family business or in the absence of a single strong CEO candidate in case of an unplanned and unexpected emergency. A company may also consider a dual-head structure for reasons of convenience, to de-risk or simply because companies are too large, too complex and too diverse that they need a partnering shoulder or a backup support in particular instances. The need of Co-CEO can be fairly inferred from a structure like large dichotomous European bank with a part of traditional retail and commercial bank in its home country, while being an aggressive investment banking player globally.
The Co-CEO structure of organizations adds to the overall strength of business. There can be situations where the CEOs have complementary set of skills, for example one is proficient in operations and sales management, while the other excels the finances. To make use of such combinations, often co-CEOs are chosen from within the company, so their skills, strengths and weaknesses are relatively well known to the board and to each other. Co-CEOs can act at a peer-level with each other and share the necessary counselling and advice. This bonding adds to the extra layer of governance to the company and lessens the need of an external counsellor or advisor.
Thus, the analysts are now coming to believe that Co-CEOs are not two swords in a scabbard. They are rather two people who dance the tango. Therefore, organizations are advised that Co-CEOs are hardware and software, your backhand to his forehand and your technique to his power. The trust factor is held to be crucial in this scenario. The Co-CEO must carry a fair share of trustable characteristics, as he is usually seen as the person who will catch you when you fall and watch your back.
This kind of trust can only be developed through a sufficient amount of structured and informal communication between both the CEOs and with the various constituents — shareholders, boards, teams and customers.
Also, an important aspect of this interpersonal communication is the maturity of the Co-CEOs to disagree in private and present a stern, unified and committed stance in front of the world, once the decision has been taken. The patience and generosity of spirit to accommodate and support each other raise the levels of maturity step by step that puts aside egos and team up to get the job done. Eventually, nothing succeeds like success