Lead Coach and Facilitator at Choose Leadership | Working with Purpose Driven Leaders and Organisations
sign on a corkboard stating two heads are better than one

The first co-leaders I worked with, my Mom, was known to say “Two heads are better than one.” She would say this when we would be working on a particularly thorny arithmetic problem, looking for an article of clothing or book that I had invariably misplaced, or trying to solve a cryptic crossword clue.

That has never been truer than in today’s complex world. What’s tricky about complexity is that everything is connected, except we don’t know what the connections are. In complex contexts, we cannot predict with any certainty what will occur because cause and effect relationships are not clear.

Jennifer Garvey Berger, has identified five mind traps that leaders fall into:

The challenge when solo-leading is that it is a lot harder to catch ourselves getting ensnared by these traps.

That is why Regina Vogel and I established Choose Leadership: to co-lead when working with groups. When working with a group or team, one of us leads from the Front, the other leads from the Field, observing the space (the social field of the group) and staying connected to their own intuition and deep listening. If I have been leading from the Field and choose to actively step into the group’s conversation, Regina can stay in the front with me or step back and hold space, depending on what she senses is needed in that moment. This in / out dance is at the heart of our co-leading. 

The Cynefin framework requires a leader working in a complex context to first notice that the context is complex and not chaotic, complicated or obvious, and second, to:

  • Probe
  • Sense
  • Respond

This requires the leader to explore, listen and observe, and then experiment. This is what the Co-active Leadership Model and Theory U have put into practice. And it is counterintuitive to the temptation to regress to a traditional “leader-on-top” command and control style, particularly when there is pressure or stress to get things right, and fast.

And it is absolutely critical that leaders avoid these mind traps when working with groups. You cannot probe, sense or respond if you are snared, unbeknownst to yourself, by your mind.

Co-leading allows us to notice in ourselves, and in our co-leader, the:

  • Overly simple stories we may be telling ourselves about a group
  • Siren call of trying certainty and rightness
  • An aversion to the storming or conflict which is required for the group to build commitment and move forward
  • A movement away from chaos and uncertainty rather than sitting with messy emotions and confusion in the group
  • Subtle ways in which ego wants to hijack our inner leader and self-authority

Not for the first time, Mom, you were right. Two heads are better than one.

Where could your organisation utilise co-leaders when working with teams or groups? 

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

You might also like…

Navigating organisational change
Navigating organisational change

“I feel like we’re this close to figuring this all out”, the CEO says smiling. And then she adds after a little pause, “even though I know it’s much more complex and we aren’t.” Everyone on the Board is smiling now, because they are all aware of their own conflicting...

Making Difficult Conversations Easier
Making Difficult Conversations Easier

I was recently working with a group of Senior Researchers, Post-docs and Laboratory Managers from across Europe. The topic: difficult conversations. A popular topic for leaders, new and well seasoned. What makes a conversation difficult? That’s partially individual,...

Stop Downloading – Start Listening
Stop Downloading – Start Listening

I recently wrote about the challenges that leaders face when attempting to listen generatively. We spend too much time downloading (to reconfirm what we already know, i.e. not really listening) or listening factually (to confirm or disconfirm what you already know,...

Share This