Co-Leadership: Corporate Coworking, Part III

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Co-Leadership is the third installment in our series on ‘corporate coworking.’  In Part I we introduce the notion of corporate coworking to a broader audience.  We have been kicking this around for a while, and apparently so have others in the world of HR (see John Sullivan’s parallel but rather different take on corporate coworking here).  In Part II, we talk about the cultural dimension of working (and coworking) in corporate organizations.  Today, in Part III, we explore the leadership dimension of the changing world of work as it is informed by coworking.

Across the coworking world, numerous innovative leaders have been busy pioneering, quite literally, an entirely new approach to leadership.  David Walker here at Conjunctured, Tony Bacigalupo at New Work City (NYC), Alex Hillman at Indy Hall (Philly), Jacob Sayles and Susan Evans at Office Nomads, Roman Gelfer at Sandbox Suites, among others, have successfully created and nurtured this new organizational form for many years now.  It is sometimes easy to forget that as recently as 2006 coworking (as we all know it today) didn’t even exist.  Talk about making shit up as we go along!

Defining (C0) Leadership

While the intricacies of a person’s leadership style are quite personal and unique, what each of these pioneers has in common is an ability to build thriving, organic communities without overly taking center stage.  The leadership success that they’ve had stems from an egalitarianism that is for the most part alien to the corporate world.  As David Berreby put it most eloquently over a decade ago in his Strategy & Business article, “The Hunter-Gatherers of the Knowledge Economy,” gone are the days of the alpha male lording over the tribe.  Counterdominant behavior is now the norm, and consensus and sharing have replaced hierarchical notions of leadership.  Even Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, gets it. In a recent speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, she suggests that in today’s organizations a “person’s value lies not in what she/he knows, but in what he/she shares.”  Such a mantra has also been at the center of the success of coworking over the past seven years.  Which leads to the question: How do we define such a leadership style?

Arguably, by putting words to it we might in fact be spoiling it, so apologies in advance.  However, I strongly believe that, in the same way that the ‘organizational form’ of coworking is a model that the corporate world desperately needs if it is to ever be fully humanized, the style of leadership that has driven the success of coworking is equally important.

burning man Co Leadership: Corporate Coworking, Part III

For this, I refer to what is happening in coworking as co-leadership.  One would think that this is already a highly developed notion, but not so.  David Heenan and Warren Bennis’ book, Co-Leaders: The Power of Great Partnerships, is a nod in the right direction, but doesn’t go near far enough.  What I am talking about here isn’t about two or more people leading an organization together, but rather ‘leadership being an emergent social dynamic that is merely the result of the context co-created by a group of people.’  Perhaps at the center of the context are visionaries like David, Jacob, Tony, Susan, and Alex, but their visions are advanced not through traditionally defined leadership, but rather through the sharing that Ginni Rometty talks about.  This isn’t “servant leadership,” either, which usually has as its goal the purely financial success of a firm or organization, even if that is achieved in a more humble manner.

Co-leadership, as it seems to be evolving in the coworking world today, is different.  It reflects the counterdominant values of today’s Gen Flux, where Silent Gen and Baby Boomer assumptions of power and authority no longer hold.  That said, this is, even if it is a totally different animal, a form of leadership nonetheless.  Perhaps un-leadership is better than co-leadership.  Either way, it is clear that, in light of the cultural values that are rising to the surface in a highly networked global culture, such an approach is effective.  Yet another of many lessons that the rest of the world can (and should) learn from the world of coworking.

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