Putting Two Leaders in Place

Most Likely To Succeed

Teams of siblings or cousins "are more synergistic and can look at issues with a broader perspective and a wider range of skills than a single person can," says Brown. Still, the co-leadership option only works if the following are firmly in place:

  • Inherent mutual trust and respect. Being family doesn't ensure you like each other or share values. Without these things, though, effective co-leadership can't exist.

  • Divided responsibilities. It's not impossible for co-leaders to have overlapping or identical responsibilities, but clarity of roles makes the relationship easier. "We do different things," says Dan Paisner, "but I'm sure we could do each other's job if we had to."

  • A board of advisors. "Co-leaders need an additional authority to whom they can go for support, counsel, an ear, and to help dilute emotions," suggests Karofsky.

  • A way to resolve conflict. Many co-leaders agree that, unless they have strong objections, they will go along with the other's decisions in their respective areas of responsibility. If strong disagreement exists, the decision is re-evaluated. Suppose, however, even after re-evaluation the co-leaders disagree. A deadlock resolution has to be set up. A small portion of the Paisners' voting stock, for example, is held by a third party--currently, their father--who can break a stalemate. "After me, it will go to a mutually agreed-upon third person," Marshall says. The Paisners took conflict resolution one step further: They set up a stock redemption agreement. If one of the brothers is so unhappy with the decision that he wants out, he can be bought out in a way that will not disrupt the company's financial security.

  • A formal structure for communication. "Got a minute?" communication is not good enough when two or more people are running the same ship. "Communication channels need to be formalized," says Karofsky. The leaders need to know that on Monday at 10 a.m. or Wednesday at 3 p.m., they have a meeting--and a commitment to that time that is as firm as a meeting with a customer.

Co-leadership isn't right for every family business, but it's an option to consider when a family has many competent, talented people with leadership capabilities.

Patricia Schiff Estess publishes the newsletter Working Families and is the author of two new books, Managing Alternative Work Arrangements (Crisp Publications) and Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage (Betterway Press).

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This article was originally published in the May 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Twos Company.

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