How to Make Co-CEO Relationships Work

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“Research at this point generally suggests co-leadership is not effective. It’s difficult for two high-powered individuals, such as two leaders, to interact without becoming paranoid and fearful of the others’ intentions, and such paranoia can lead to performance-detracting power struggles.”

- Lindred L. Greer, Associate Professional of Organizational Behavior, Stanford Graduate School of Business

But the fact is that Co-CEO relationships can work — look to Salesforce or Oracle as prime examples.

Step 1: Avoid Duplication

“In the same way that you don’t want your best and brightest team members to spend all their time bouncing ideas off each other (or you), you don’t want to have to do that with a co-founder.”

Carrie McKeegan, CEO and Co-Founder, Greenback Expat Tax Services

As Co-CEOs, your ability to collaborate will determine your company’s future — and it also means you avoid debating every little thing that is under the scope of influence of one person.

Create a Decision-Making Process

“One of the most common criticisms of the co-CEO arrangement is that it confuses stakeholders.”

John Ganey, Co-CEO, Logical Position

Create a decision-making process that complements your skills and avoids the confusion that plagues Co-CEO structures. A sample one is below:

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  • Find a cohesive message that you can then broadcast to your stakeholders;
  • Developing a collective voice that integrates both of your interests and needs; and
  • Have you practice respectfully disagreeing.

Disagree Respectfully

“Being forced to share the CEO title often becomes a power struggle. The second your leadership becomes misaligned, things will start to fall apart.”

Heidi Zak, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Third Love

Disagreement is healthy. It’s how you disagree that ultimately matters.

  1. Do not do it in front of employees or other relevant stakeholders
  2. No name-calling or personal attacks
  3. Take five minutes to write out your solution or ideas, and then switch, reading what the other side wrote. Find areas of commonalities or potential agreement
  4. When in doubt, use your company values to help you find a third way forward
  5. Look to objective data or a third party if you have severe doubts about how to move forward and cannot come to an agreement
  6. If either of you are emotional, ask yourself, “What is causing this, and is it appropriate?” Sometimes you need to vent before you can have a productive dialogue
  7. Have a beer and chill out — remember the context of how you disagree matters — and humanize one another

Who am I & why should you listen to me?

I am a mediator that specializes in resolving co-founder disputes.

Have a co-founder dispute that you need some help with?

Schedule a 15-minute discovery call below:

If you enjoyed this article, offer up some 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾 s — it motivates me to write more.

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Bryant Galindo

Bryant Galindo

I help founders and business leaders negotiate agreements and resolve disputes while improving communication on their team 🤝 More at www.collabshq.com