So yesterday I received a ‘special message to the University community’ from Dr. Mike Mahon, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Lethbridge.  In it he explains how he will be “increasingly focussing efforts on a number of external relationships” and so has decided to solidify Dr. Andy Hakin into the position of lead Vice-President – “in essence [he will] be our Chief Operating Officer”.

This is a common practice in many businesses and so not surprising to see the approach adopted in another organization.  The ‘head’ (President, CEO, etc.) of the organization focusses on long-term strategy and outside relations while the ‘second’ (Vice-President, COO, etc.) focusses on the internal organization.  Think Steve Jobs/Tim Cook before Job’s death.

But why keep the overarching hierarchy?  Why not work as a team – or true partners?  I’m sure the term ‘team’ gets used in all of these organizations adopting this external/internal division, but in the end they are still relying on a control-based bureaucratic structure.  In the end, the Vice/Second/COO reports to the ‘higher’ position.

Is it possible to work together?  As partners? Most assume not.

Remember RIM co-CEO’s Balsille and Lazaridis?  How happy were investors and analysts when they finally announced Jan 22, 2012 that they were stepping down.  DailyFinance writer Rick Aristotle Munarriz put it this way in his analysis of the situation, “The two-headed beast at the helm of RIM has been vanquished”.

Fast forward to Fast Company’s March 2015 article on Warby Parker.  A great report on the company, but what is lost amongst all the accolades for building “the first great made-on-the-internet brand” and praise for insightful, “deliberate”, disruptive yet meticulous execution, is the fact these results originate from two people – two co-CEO’s.  Founders David Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal are “jointly responsible for all major decisions”.  The arrangement “allows them to be more hands-on than might be possible in a typical high-growth startup, but it also means that both men must be constantly in sync”.

Is this the beginning of a new trend?  Is the idea of co-leadership becoming more palatable, even at the top of a for-profit organization?

That’s a huge change.  But only the beginning in the shift from control to collaboration.

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