Co Leadership: The Risks and Rewards


There exists a stereotypical image of a solo leader, charging ahead, making succeed-or-fail decisions, basking in the glory when things go well, as well as shouldering all the blame when their strategies fail. Success or failure rests entirely on them. More and more these days, however, the role of solitary leader is giving way to the collaboration and shared responsibility of Co Leadership.


What is Co Leadership?

One example of co-leadership is two CEOs working together to head up a company. There are many other situations in the business world in which people may team up to lead. A pair of individuals may share the responsibility of co-leading a team or a project. Whether the relationship is long-term or temporary—or whether it’s for an endeavor that’s big or small— co-leadership comes with its share of positives, as well as negatives.
The Good


  • As opposed to solo leadership, co leadership provides an opportunity for a yin-yang experience in which your partner’s strengths will help counter-balance your weaknesses (and vice-versa). In order for this to work, you must choose your partner carefully and be able to have a clear view of your own shortcomings.


  • Two are stronger than one. Running a project or organization carries a great deal of responsibility and stress. If you’re heading things up alone and feel as though you’re running out of steam, inspiration, or ideas, you’re the only one who can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and continue on. With co leadership, though, you have someone to bounce ideas off of. They can provide a fresh perspective that you may not have considered. It’s also a huge stress reliever to have someone to vent to when the going gets tough.


  • You’re not in it alone. Working with a co-leader, there is someone who is just as invested in the endeavor as you are. When things fall flat, you have someone with which to mourn your losses. When all of your hard work pays off, you have someone to share in celebrating that success. This adds an element of friendship, camaraderie, and fun to the often-lonely task of leading.


and the Bad


  • When you run things alone, you call all of the shots. You live and die by your decisions alone. When working with a co-leader, you must be able to collaborate with someone else. Especially if you’ve chosen someone with a different background or complementary strengths, they may often have a differing perspective from your own. While this can be helpful, it can also cause conflict.


  • When working with a co leader, it’s important to have clear boundaries laid out from the beginning. If you have founded a company together, you must contractually divide up ownership, assets, profit, and responsibility. You must also have a definitive strategy for decision-making if the two of you reach an impasse.


  • Speaking of dividing up responsibility: make sure you have distinct and separate areas in which each of you will lead. If you’re both trying to lead in the same area, you’ll end up with a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario that will inevitably lead to conflict.


  • Your reputations will become a reflection on one another—for better or worse. As your organization or project progresses, your behavior as leaders will impact your overall image. This is true as individuals, but it also applies as a team. If you believe in treating employees or team members with respect, but your partner discounts others and their ideas, their behavior will reflect badly on you as part of the leadership. This is part of why it’s important to pick a co-leader whose values you share.


If a partnership is carefully planned out, the positives of having  co leadership definitely outweigh the negatives. Choosing someone you can trust who has a proven record of achievement and effective leadership is important. Leading with someone else is a big decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly, as it doesn’t just affect you—it will affect your entire team or organization.