Smart people working together always works. – Alan Mulally
Tuesday’s podcast was all about co-leading. I talked a lot about my partnership with Cynthia Hernandez, a great leader on the team at Southwest Michigan First. We decided, instead of just hearing my side of the story, that it would be great for Cynthia to share on co-leading from her perspective too. Amanda interviewed her this week and she shared some really great insights that all leaders will appreciate.
I am excited for you to hear from Cynthia today.
Amanda: Cynthia, Ron talked about co-leading with you during his recent Always Forward podcast. From your perspective, what are some of the things that are required to make this co-leading relationship work?
Cynthia: Confidentiality is huge. Your co-leader has to feel confident and comfortable to speak freely on all topics. This is the only way you can act in their best interests, as well as on their behalf. In order to have this open relationship, your co-leader needs to have confidence in your ability to keep things confidential and the judgement to know if something can be shared. This is a two-way street. I know that Ron can keep things confidential if I feel I need to make him aware of something as a leader.
Ron and I are also able to have a very open and direct relationship because we both have trust behind each other’s intentions. It is why he can provide feedback without feeling I will take offense. It is why I feel I can make a decision in his place without waiting for approval. I am able to move at the pace that I do and have the confidence that my decision will always have his full support. This trust and open communication is really the key to any partnership.
Amanda: Ron has mentioned in the podcast that you have profit and loss responsibilities for the organization and that he serves on some of the teams that you lead. Can you give us an example?
Cynthia: A great example of this is our MI Makers Box – a quarterly box subscription service, designed to grow awareness and support for local Southwest Michigan makers. As managing director for the brand, I have responsibilities for design, curating the products and maintaining a profit. Of course, there are several team members who help me – one of them being Ron, but at the end of the day, I am responsible for the success of this company. If Ron has a big idea but I think we need to wait on the opportunity, he will always respect my opinion and position as the point leader.
Amanda: Obviously a relationship like the one you’ve built with Ron isn’t developed overnight. What is your best advice for others on how to establish a co-leading relationship?
Cynthia: It did take some time for me to feel like I could anticipate the thought process behind his decisions or for him to have confidence in my judgement. But through the entire process, we both made a concentrated effort to be very open with each other and talk about the reasoning behind each of our decisions.
Amanda: How do you manage all of the people who call our organization and want to speak or meet with Ron?
One of the things that I try to do when people ask for time with Ron is determine what the individual’s true needs are. Most of the time, and Ron will admit this, he is really not the best person to talk to, but people ask for him because he is the ceo or the name everyone knows. If someone wants to talk about a possible jobs project, that’s Jill. If someone want to know about our leadership programs, that’s Tim. He places emphasis on the fact that he doesn’t know everything and if he were to take a meeting instead of passing it off to the appropriate team member, it would be a disservice to the person requesting a meeting and their time. That’s what co-leading is all about – instead of just one leader, all of the members of our team are experts on various divisions and Ron has full trust in their leadership.
Amanda: How do you balance the relationship of sometimes being part of our larger team and sometimes acting in the capacity of the ceo’s office?
Cynthia: That is something that can be a constant struggle. It is important that all parties understand the position you are in and are aware that you probably know more than you can disclose. Thankfully, I have a great leader and team that supports and respects the confidentiality burden and never pushes that issue.
This position requires making those tough judgement calls where you must relay information for the greater good and not just for the sake of gossip. For a teammate, you might say, “I think you may want to wait before acting because there may be some changes coming that will affect this event.” Or to the leader, “you should be aware of the pressure on this teammate’s family right now. We should find someone to travel in their place.”
Amanda: What would you say to a leader or a CEO who isn’t totally bought into this concept of co-leading?
Cynthia: It will only work if both leaders are fully invested. If a leader wants to hold all of the decision making power, they also bear the entire burden and responsibility of leadership alone. The benefit of co-leading for both parties is that the pressure and time commitment is somewhat shared and you feel like you have a partner. I really do feel like Ron is my partner. The support is mutual.
Question: Do you currently co-lead with anyone? Who, in your team or organization, could come alongside you to become a great partner and co-leader?