As a co-CEO of a large digital marketing agency, I’m something of an anomaly in my industry. Few other companies in our cohort split their leadership role at the top, opting instead for a more traditional single CEO. However, we weren’t the first ones to invent this structure. Other large organizations like Chipotle, Whole Foods, and Oracle have all employed co-CEOs at the top of their corporate hierarchy.
I’ve personally seen many benefits from implementing the co-CEO structure, including improved decision making, better coverage, and more effective divisions of responsibility. However, this arrangement does come with some risks. For starters, having two leaders can induce paranoia, and this can lead to a power struggle between the two CEOs.
Businesses who are interested in adopting a leadership-sharing rule should acknowledge these risks and mitigate them ahead of time. For me, success as a co-CEO with Logical Position’s founder, Michael Weinhouse, has come because we’ve adhered to a number of principles. Here are the rules that we continue to live by today.
1. Create clear divisions of labor
One of the most common criticisms of the co-CEO arrangement is that it confuses stakeholders. Employees don’t know which CEO is really the boss. Investors aren’t sure which CEO is truly holding the reins. Clients aren’t clear which CEO is genuinely leading the way. I agree that this is a potential pitfall, but I also believe that we can remedy this easily by having a clear division of labor.
At Logical Position, Michael and I have defined our areas of responsibility along lines that fit our different personalities and skill sets. I tend to be more analytical, with a history of working in systems management. Michael, on the other hand, is more outgoing and had a successful sales career before starting Logical Position. As a result, I naturally gravitate toward managing processes and modeling, while Michael focuses on strengthening our employee, client, and partner relationships. This arrangement works well for us because we can both focus on our strengths and be the most effective leaders we can be for the company.
Of course, our roles still overlap. For example, we both oversee the financial aspect of the business. But even within this shared domain, we make sure to divide our work along lines that make sense. I handle macro financials so that the organization can meet its long-term goals, while Michael oversees day-to-day cash flow. This arrangement keeps us both in the loop and intimately engaged with our company’s finances. At the same time, it allows each person to have autonomy over his area of responsibility.
2. Communicate constantly
Splitting up responsibilities won’t help if each CEO retreats to their own corner. Co-CEOS need to be in constant communication or they risk moving in opposing directions, often without realizing.
There are many ways to accomplish this goal, and technology certainly makes communication easier. Michael and I have solved this in our own relationship by removing the wall between our offices. Over the years, we’ve found that this setup gives us both great insights into what the other is doing, and allows us to collaborate when we need to make quick decisions together. It’s crucial for us to have this proximity to each other to ensure that our business can move quickly and nimbly when necessary.
Some people assume that even though we’re business partners and co-CEOs, one of us still must have final say. But that’s not how we work. We’ve become very receptive to each other and have learned to trust the other person to make the final call when it comes to their own areas of responsibility. But this wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t invest a lot of time in communicating with one another.
Of course, we still have disagreements from time to time. Anyone who’s spent time building a business will develop strong opinions about how it should be run. On occasion, Michael and I have a difference of opinion. Over the years, however, we’ve learned how to disagree well, which may be one of the most critical skills co-CEOs can learn–which brings me to my next point.
3.Learn how to disagree well
Healthy disagreements are an essential part of any business relationship. Many times, you actually end up with an outcome that’s better than either of the opposing viewpoints. Often, disagreements can bring about ideas and inspiration that neither party has thought of. However, it only works if the two sides have a constructive dialogue rather than a confrontational argument.
Michael and I often differ on what we consider to be the best course of action. But our practice as co-CEOs has taught us to be much more efficient in coming to solutions. Disagreements rarely last beyond a conversation, and when they do, we’ve trained ourselves to resolve them within an hour.
4. Find a backstop
Michael and I are more than business partners. In fact, we are also brothers-in-law. Being family certainly adds a level of trust between us, as well as a guaranteed backstop for inevitable disagreements. In the end, we both believe that family is more important than business.
Most co-CEOs don’t have this arrangement and built-in backstop, which means it’s up to you and your partner to figure out what yours will be. What will you do to ensure that you both have the lines of communication open when things get heated?
As co-CEOs, your ability to collaborate is the key to future success. This means that you (and your partner) need to have a clear purpose beyond the role. What gets you out of bed and excited to lead this company together? What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure, and how does that relate to what you hope to achieve in life? How does your role as a co-CEO align with your priorities and larger purpose? Understanding these motivations will help you get through the tough times—including when you and your co-CEO don’t see eye to eye.
John Ganey is the co-CEO of Logical Position.