ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

October 1998


Employees First, Customers Second

Adding Life To Learning

Knowledge Management: It's Really About People

Tricks Of The Trade From The Greatest Showman On Earth


Food For Thought
by Peter Block

Working With Alligators
by Michael Robinson


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Views For A Change

Dave Farrell Responds:

I can’t resist the temptation to begin by quoting the immediate reaction of those colleagues with whom I shared the question; namely “Just don’t do it.” I’m assuming that’s not an option. If it were, this would be the shortest column in AQP history.

Rarely have I been presented with a question for which I was more reluctant to offer suggestions without further information. Effective approaches to implementing the co-president leadership model are highly dependent on a number of variables: the past history and relationships of the parties themselves, alignment (or at least compatibility) of their management style, philosophy, values and goals; their relative egos; the relationships between the organizations they previously led; the esteem with which they are held by their people; and the existence and effectiveness of a board of directors, to name a few.

Approaches to minimize the risks inherent in this leadership model can be categorized into behavioral and structural and they focus either on the relationship between the two principals, or the relationship between both and the balance of the organization — upward (with the board) and downward (with the staff.)

Clearly, decision making is one of the most troublesome potential problems. Creation of a dyad (a 2-person unit) sets up the potential for stalemates, significantly impacting the organization’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to internal or external challenges or opportunities. It is essential that the parties have a high level of agreement about, and commitment to, the decision-making process itself. There must be a clear understanding about how differences of opinion will be resolved. One of the options includes bringing a third party into the process when necessary to prevent an impasse. The tie-breaking party could be another member of the executive team, an external arbiter, a member of the board of directors, or perhaps the entire board. Each of these alternatives sets up dynamics which in and of themselves are far from ideal, but are better than ongoing organizational paralysis.

The role of the board of directors in this situation is critical. The board members must be even-handed in their relationship with both executives if the co-president structure is to have a chance of succeeding. There can be no favoritism and the board must be a party to the agreed-upon decision-making process. In my experience with governance of health care organizations, the structure having the greatest chance of success is a triad, with balanced representation from the medical staff, administration and the community. A board so structured is more likely to provide the necessary support for a co-presidency model than one which has less balanced representation.

The board of directors also has the opportunity to exercise their role in managing the performance of the two presidents by tying compensation to their collaboration and synergy in addition to traditional measures of organizational performance.

It is not clear from the question whether the co-presidents will have identical roles and responsibilities. It should be noted that titles are not the same as job descriptions. One alternative to having both incumbents in identical jobs is to have each carry the title of president, but clearly distinguish their respective roles. Each can be responsible for a different set of executive tasks, capitalizing on their unique skills and contributions and minimizing areas of potential conflict. A useful analogy is that of successful job sharing, in which two people combine, usually with part-time schedules, to fill one job. These arrangements work best when each person focuses on that aspect of the total job for which they are most qualified. Only then can the job sharing approach realize its potential for synergy, with the two accomplishing more together than each could separately.
Behavioral considerations focus on how the two presidents communicate with — and behave toward — each other and with the rest of the organization. I assume that your description of this as a “friendly merger” also characterizes the relationship between the two presidents.

If it has not been done already, the two need to discuss with total candor their goals and vision, both personal and organizational, and their values and management styles. While it is neither likely, nor required, that these factors be the same, it is crucial that they can be brought into reasonable alignment, or at a minimum that conflicts in these management fundamentals be identified and addressed effectively. A facilitated session, either with the two, or including the board, should be used to raise and resolve these issues.

Obviously this arrangement will require an extraordinary level of ongoing communications between the two, and clear, frequent and shared communications with the rest of the organization. Ground rules for communications must be established early and time set aside to assure that daily distractions are not allowed to get in the way.
Finally, the model of successful parenting provides us with insights about additional behavioral conditions and agreements that your co-presidents would do well to emulate:

- Lasting success is, in part, a function of the respect
and trust they have for each other,

- They have shared responsibilities, but they
exercise different roles,

- Individual egos are sublimated to the good of
the family,

- No fighting in front of the kids — conflicts are
handled in private, and

- No one is allowed to play off one against the
other— each supports the other’s decisions.

John Runyan Responds:

October '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
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