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The leadership team: complementary strengths or conflicting agendas?


, : The leadership team: complementary strengths or conflicting agendas?. Harvard Business Review 85(4): 90-8, 141

Senior leadership teams whose members play complementary roles have been chronicled as far back as Homer's account of the Trojan War: Although King Agamemnon commanded the Greek army, Achilles, Odysseus, and Nestor each played a distinct role in defeating Troy. Today, complementary-leadership structures are common and, in some cases, even institutionalized. Think of a CEO concerned mainly with external issues and a COO who focuses internally. The authors describe four kinds of complementarity: task, expertise, cognitive, and role. The two top executives at the software company Adobe Systems, for example, represent the second kind. As CEO, Bruce Chizen draws on his sales and marketing knowledge, while COO Shantanu Narayen adds his engineering and product development expertise. Roberto Goizueta, formerly the CEO of Coca-Cola, and Douglas Ivester, his COO (who later became CEO), were famous examples of the fourth type: Goizueta, the diplomat, maintained good relations with external stakeholders; Ivester, the warrior, drove the company to defeat the competition. Bringing together two or more people with complementary strengths can compensate for the natural limitations of each. But with the benefits comes the risk of confusion, disagreement about priorities, and turf battles. Leadership succession also presents substantial challenges, especially when a COO or president who has worked in a complementary fashion with the CEO moves into the top role. An organization's board of directors and CEO can manage the risks by fostering a shared vision, common incentives, communication, and trust. They can also ensure smooth succession processes in various ways, such as brokering a gradual transfer of responsibilities or allowing the CEO and the COO to share duties as long as they maintain the logic of complementarity.

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