At the onset of our leadership journey as Co-CEOs, we faced a pivotal decision and question. We were asked and had to ask ourselves how we would handle if – and when – we found ourselves in disagreement about a path forward. While the conventional choice would have been to draft a conflict resolution document, we opted for a different approach: a Co-CEO agreement.
Unlike the primarily reactive conflict resolution document, a Co-CEO agreement proactively outlines up-front terms of engagement and expectations for ourselves and each other. It provides a framework for how as Co-CEOs we will work together, make decisions, and lead our organization into the future. It includes details about our decision-making processes, communication protocols, succession planning, and other aspects related to our shared leadership model.
A typical conflict resolution plan might only come into play once tensions have already escalated, potentially leading to strained relationships. In contrast, our Co-CEO agreement seeks to prevent conflicts rather than merely resolve them. It outlines our commitments to and for working together. It is centered on shared decision-making, mutual respect, trust, and open and regular communication. We keep each other informed and updated on all critical issues and developments, and support each other as a united front through challenges as they arise.
The Co-CEO agreement is essential in executing our co-leadership roles as we envisioned as two women with complementary and distinct leadership styles, expertise, and backgrounds. The co-leadership by design challenges traditional notions of power and hierarchy and embraces a more inclusive, empathetic, and human-centered approach that we are working toward integrating across our organization. Our collaborative leadership reflects the world we want to see and create together in many ways. One where diverse voices are heard, valued, and respected, collaboration trumps competition, and leading is about lifting each other up.
Leading with a focus on agreement rather than conflict resolution is in strong alignment with our goal to dismantle oppressive systems and foster a more equitable, inclusive, and just society and workplace.
While the Co-CEO model might not suit every organization, a well-structured leadership agreement can help set the tone and lay the groundwork for any organization’s success.
Nomsa Khalfani, Ph.D., and Amy Moy are the Co-CEOs of Essential Access Health, a non-profit organization that advances reproductive equity and champions quality sexual and reproductive health care for all.