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:
- Simple Stories – our brain loves simple stories, even though reality is never as cut and dried as our stories are
- Rightness – we love to feel right and to experience the emotion of certainty
- Agreement – we are programmed to create connection, which encourages false agreement
- Control – we tend to feel happier when we believe we are in control
- Ego – we tend to move away from, or move against, people or ideas which threaten our sense of self and identity
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:
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?