Under the right conditions, two corporate heads can be better than one, both for the company and the individual partners.
The image of one omnipotent and charismatic CEO, alone at the top of the company, is closely held both in business theory and practice. But the authors argue that under the right conditions, co-chiefs — two or even three individuals sharing the top job — can benefit the organization because different leadership styles and competencies are simultaneously available to most effectively deal with differing situations. Notable examples past and present include Google, IMAX, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. From their study of over 100 companies that adopted power-sharing — sometimes productively, sometimes not — the authors conclude that it is most likely to work when the relationship between the co-CEOs evinces complementarity, compatibility and commitment.
Further, careful design of the leaders’ shared and separate responsibilities — especially regarding communication mechanisms (for external constituents, inside the organization and between each other) — is required. Lastly, it is essential that there be co-evolution, in which each of the co-leaders show willingness to change over time and allow their relationship to further develop. In that spirit, the authors offer seven practical “rules of engagement” for forming power-sharing structures with good potential for success, for ensuring smooth day-to-day functioning and for adjusting these relationships as conditions change.