The Two-Headed Executive

I’m always befuddled when a company appoints two people to one job. Oh, I get the job-sharing thing. If two dogcatchers work 20 hours a week, there’s one full-time dogcatcher (plus some additional administrative overhead).

What amazes me is when a company puts two senior executives in one job (e.g., co-presidents), usually to identify which one will succeed the CEO. Goldman Sachs had this arrangement until a winner was chosen and the runner up quit. It’s like a cage fight where the last one standing gets the nod or like Roman gladiators with calculators (and company jets) rather than swords. I’d rather fight the competition and save both warriors for the fight!

I’ve yet to see success when two equals share the same title and responsibilities. I experienced this once in my career when a guy couldn’t make a decision so had two of us share a title and responsibilities. We mostly made peace with it, but it confused folks who worked for us, and we spent an immense amount of time coordinating.

Whether done for competitive reasons (e.g., the cage fight) or because someone couldn’t make a decision (lack of spine), it’s a mistake.

There’s only one pope and one president for a reason. Imagine Hillary and Donald trying to share a job! Clear objectives and responsibilities and an intelligible organization chart are still the norm for a reason.

Taking two good people (and I’m not necessarily referring to Hillary or Donald) and putting them in a situation where one must fail seems wasteful. You can’t fight human nature, and the cage fight loser is pretty much doomed to be demoralized.

Likewise, executive polygamy is fraught with problems. It’s a wonderful thing to have two (or more!) people in your organization who are capable of rising to the top, but for goodness’ sake, make a choice! “Big Love” may have been a successful television show, but it isn’t any way to run an organization.

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  • Kristin Thielking

    8:41 am May 21, 2018

    Completely agree. Co-anything in the corporate world almost never seems like a good idea.

    • Todd Ordal

      8:54 am May 21, 2018

      Thanks, Kristin. Avoiding the tough decision!