“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Nowhere is this truer than in the realm of leadership.
Co-leading means not to lead on your own, but to share leadership with one or more others. And the benefits of co-leading are numerous:
More creativity and better collaboration
- Safety for exploring ideas and providing support
- More strengths to draw on
- More connection and deeper relationship
The path to joyful co-leadership is one of working continuously on the relationship, rather than focusing solely on the task.
We see this with Co-CEOs (Oracle, WeWork, SAP) through to co-project leads. In strong and healthy relationships, people have been co-leading and co-parenting for thousands of years.
The biggest obstacle to successful co-leading is unsurprisingly the challenge that plagues all relationships – our tendency to make things up. And we all do this. All the time.
Someone says something and we hear something different from what they meant. We see something and we interpret it differently than the person beside us. it can be as simple as we are cold and the other person is warm, and as such, they perceive something differently than you (Yes, your body temperature affects your behaviour.)
It’s not surprising given that we are estimated to have between 6000 and 60000 thoughts per day. Some of them will be observations of the world around us, some will be about feelings and emotions, and others yet about random ideas that pop into our heads – the product of our imagination. How do we as co-leaders deal with this thought generator which drives our behaviour?
There are some simple questions and statements that can go a long way to overcoming our in built tendency to make stuff up. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) gives us a simple framework to use when communicating and making a request.
- Observation — specific facts/data, no evaluation/judgment. Eg. “What I heard you say was that…” or “What I am seeing is…”
- Feeling — state how we feel
- Need — the need underlying this feeling
- Request — must be specific action to address need
- What I am hearing you say is that you want a cookie.
- I am feeling frustrated about that.
- Because I value fairness, I need to eat that cookie.
- I am wondering if we could share the last cookie?
Observation is the most important step. We often jump from observation to judgement without pause, and this inevitably leads to conflict. Imagine you lead with “You always eat all the cookies!” This is also why being non-judgemental is so important. When we become emotionally triggered, or trigger another with an accusation, we are on a slippery slope to destructive conflict. Chris Argyris’s Ladder of Inference illustrates how this process works.
When listening, we often make assumptions, which we could overcome by saying something like “I am imagining that…” or “The story I am making up about this is…” This allows you to share what is going on inside your head and own what it is that you are making up, without making the other person wrong.
These practices will not eliminate conflict, nor will they stop us from making assumptions. What they will do is reveal what is going on inside our heads to the other so that we can talk about the same thing.
And that’s a good thing, whether we are co-leading at work or at home.
Because if you are co-leading, you are running a marathon, not a sprint.