Food For Thought
Working With Alligators
John Runyan answers:
My reactions to your question range from enthusiasm about your opportunity to work in a new, shared leadership model to some worry about the challenges all of you face as you try to develop this approach and work out it ‘friendly merger.’
I have watched and consulted with many organizations as they have moved into the merger, transition and growth phases that you are describing. While your nonprofit status makes you a less-than-usual candidate for a merger, I believe that you will face many of the same challenges that confront your profit-oriented business cousins.
Take the Time and Make the
In particular, I believe that the boards and the two co-presidents of your new organization need to acknowledge the complexity and difficulty of the endeavor on which they are embarking. With this acknowledgement, they should then decide to invest the considerable time, effort and money needed to bring the merged organization fully to life. Specifically, they should disavow the superficial “quick and dirty” methods that have sabotaged many mergers and alliances over the past few years. As an example, they should allow and encourage the marking/celebrating/ grieving that people in organizations need to do when they are closing a chapter of their work lives, even voluntarily.
My own experience with shared
leadership tells me that the two presidents need to begin
with themselves by committing a significant amount of
time to dialogues about their values, visions and goals
for themselves and their organizations—both
privately and jointly with their boards and in front of
their staffs. I would suggest that occasionally they use
a third-party facilitator to stimulate, probe and
challenge them to maximize their own learnings and to
draw out the real questions and answers when they engage
with their constituencies.
I believe that this visible and audible commitment to real give-and-take and a transparent process is the foundation for exercising effective leadership when the two organizational cultures come together.
Many Person, Multi-Level,
I am convinced that some version of this many-person, multi-level, multidimensional dialogue process is essential for the success of any merger. This dialogue process (followed by repeated invitations and expectations for all to participate in the new organization’s team-building efforts) sends the concrete message that every member of both organizations needs to shoulder her or his share of the responsibility for making the new, bi-partisan organization a real success.
Having modeled and launched this
dialogue process, the two co-presidents can turn to
crafting their own agreements about how to share
responsibility and power. My experience tells me that
they can best do their own work and lead by example for
others at all levels by taking the following steps:
I want to acknowledge here the vision and courage that you and your boards are showing by adopting this new co-president model, I clearly see the potential of the combined resources of your two experienced leaders. My query to you and your colleagues is — will you join them fully in taking on the responsibilities and working through the challenges of a newly-merged organization? Or will you leave it up to them to figure out what needs to happen? Your answers and actions will have as much to say about your collective success as theirs do.