Dance of Co-Leadership

TesseTalks Sara Ramsey

Sara Ramsey defines co-leadership as” leaders coming together to make joint decision making and taking shared responsibilities”.

Co-leaders may be co-founders, co-CEOs or leaders who jointly support self-managing and self-organizing organizations. “ I get to work with all sorts of inspiring people, you know, wanting to do positive things in the world. They want to try and do things differently as well”, says Sara.

Delineating responsibilities is useful in organisations of any size.  Delegation through shared leadership can be particularly useful in small and medium businesses where owners are responsible for everything.

Owners may want to step back or retire.  They may want to  go off and do some other things.   Whatever the reason, co-leadership may bring freedom, autonomy and enlarged capacity.   

What can be helpful when coleading?

    1.Knowing the dance you are in – who leads and who follows? The elegance is being dynamic without treading on each other’s toes. Know what dance you’re are in.

    2.Communicating well.  Giving each other space to twirl off and do their own little spin too. When and how do you communicate as a united front?  Self-awareness and leadership consciousness are key assets.  

    3.Connecting around what you’re trying to do.  Shared values and shared principles bring alignment. Connect just as human beings, experiment, try each other out and collaborate. How well matched are you?  Some people can be fantastic dancers, but  not necessarily be good  in the pairing that is needed. 

    4. Learning from each other – bringing something different together.  Co-leading is a massive learning journey.   Both leaders can improve, grow together and bring growth to the entity.

    5. Creating psychological safety – real conversations build trust.   Coleaders talk about what matters and share when things work well alongside what does not go to plan.  

    6. Co-creating trusted space.  Having clarity about how decisions are made. while confronting any biases that cloud thinking and discussions. 

    7. Co-leadership framework – Creating rhythms and structures that nurture relationships. How do you hold each other to account? How do others hold you to account as well?

    When two people are equipped to lead together, the future is brighter.    Of course, the interest of the organisation must come first and co-leaders must have this as their line of sight. 

    Useful resources:

    Co-leaderships stories and framework  –

    Co-leadership Charter

    Dance of leadership blog –

    Co-leaders, Sara Ramsey and Patrick Andrew’s work  on the organisational spine to support dynamic, inclusive and effective decision making will be published shortly.

    You can sign up for email updates and articles at –


    00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseTalks” with your host, Tesse Akpeki and co-host me Paula Okonneh, where we share with you top leadership and management strategies. This is a journey of discovery. We are learning that leadership is personal and professional. And we hope you will walk with us in this adventure. We have a fabulous guest today. All our guests are fabulous, but I’ll tell you about Sarah Sara Ramsey is the co-founder of Wings and Roots, encouraging and supporting the health growth of leaders and organizations, their impact, their sustainability and wellbeing. Sara’s particular focus area is enabling better decision making. Helping people throughout organizations make timely, effective and conscious choices aligned with shared goals and priorities. With a passion for dance and its power to help people connect, collaborate, and co-create. She often brings embodiment practices into her work, inspired by recent research that emphasizes the links between the mind and the body. The theme of today’s episode is “The Dance of Co-Leadership”. Welcome to “TesseTalks” Sarah, and I’ll turn it over to you Tesse.
    00:01:29 Tesse: Hi Sara, welcome. I am so excited to see you. In fact, our viewers we’re seeing each other. We have been trying to get together for six months. Can you believe it? But guess what the lesson is if you keep with the intention it happens. So welcome. Now today we are going to be talking about co-leadership. And my question to you Sara, I hear all the time, co-leadership, what is co-leadership, sara?
    00:01:57 Sara: Well, that’s a good question, and there’s so many definitions. People talk about co-leadership, collective leadership, shared leadership. To be honest, for me I keep it really simple. And it’s where you’ve got some people, you know, some leaders coming together to make joint decision making and taking shared responsibilities. And so that collective responsibilities. So it can be, in my interpretation, there’s definitions all over the place. It could be where you’ve got a CEO and a traditional leadership team and they’re actually taking on a lot of that collective responsibility together. It could be co-leaders, co-founders, co-CEOs. You’re hearing more and more about in different organizations across the place. And it can be as well, I think where you’ve got sort of people are getting some of the organizations I work with looking at self-managing and sort of doing leadership around to support self-managing and self organizing organizations as well. So it’s a broad topic and every situation’s different.
    00:02:55 Paula: Tesse thanks for asking Sara that question, because that was fascinating to me. We talk about co-leadership being very popular, especially, I love that part about dancing. But why is it becoming increasingly common?
    00:03:10 Sara: There’s a number of reasons, I think. One is the world’s becoming more complex and uncertain. Organizations are becoming more complex and uncertain. It’s a lot to have a single individual responsible for all of that. And I think and have the work life balance that everyone’s striving for as well. And I think my colleague, Patrick and I, we talk about AND leadership a lot. Which is really about like, how do you hold together, you know, profit and purpose? How do you, you know, all the different areas of organizations which is hard for one person on their own to hold and to be everything at the same time. So I think people are finding it’s much easier. And you can find someone who’s got complimentary strengths. And actually it can be a bit more fun too. ,
    00:03:53 Paula: I agree about fun. And when you talk about complimentary strengths, that’s Tesse and myself.
    00:04:02 Sara: I can already tell that. You’re a brilliant example of co-leaders actually. Completely brilliant. You know each other’s strengths, you can fill in for each other as well.
    00:04:15 Tesse: Yeah, I think what you sense is that we’ve been complementing in everything. And I would say as a business partner, Paula completes me, right. That’s absolute truth. And so kind of like you’ve described what co-leadership means. Paula’s asked a question about, you know, why is it become increasingly common? I’m gonna ask another question. As you can tell, worldwide, there’s so many changes in the world. Let’s talk, United Kingdom. A lot of changes. And so I’m going to ask, my question relates to sustainability. This model of co-leadership, how can it be a sustainable model?
    00:04:52 Sara: Good question. And it makes a question, maybe we shouldn’t have a prime minister. Maybe we should have a co-leadership, co-leader prime Minister.
    00:05:00 Tesse: Maybe that would work.
    00:05:02 Sara: Maybe that would help. So yeah, well, I think it’s sustainable in its very nature really. I think just, obviously if you, it’s a bit more robust having more than one person. Everyone’s going through different energies. If one person can take some time out if they need to, it’s much more sustainable. But I think sort of beyond the day-to-day, I think we’re, I’ve been speaking to quite a few owners, particularly through Covid time actually. Particularly small medium business owners where they’re responsible for everything. And you know, perhaps their staff were going on furlough their employees. They were the ones holding it all together. Maybe sort of cutting back on their income to keep their employees and teams there and managing all the additional regulations. So I think that’s where it’s really shown the difference between who’s got full responsibility and who’s an employee. I know some of the founders I’ve been working with are really been looking at it and thinking, actually I’d like to bring other people into the leadership as well. Not just employ people, but to have people to hold that. And also to give people opportunities as well to grow the business. And so I think there’s a whole, there’s a whole range of things. And likewise, we’ve been working with some owners who wants to step back and they want to retire and go off and do whatever they want to do as well. And so bringing in leaders and really bringing them up sets people up. I think a lot of people start organizations or start businesses, and one of the things they always say is they want freedom and then they’re running the business. And they have freedom in many ways, but maybe not in the lifestyle. So I think it just makes it more sustainable for individuals as well. They’ve got other people around them that can share the load with really, and share their decision making.
    00:06:45 Tesse: That’s really useful. Paula, what thoughts are coming into your mind?
    00:06:49 Paula: That’s fascinating to hear what she’s saying. Especially as you know, we are small. We’re not medium yet, but we’re a small business owners, you know. And I think about what she’s saying, the importance of co-leadership. And especially when as a small business owner, you are wearing many hats. And even though you may co-lead or you know, may share responsibilities like Tesse and I do. There’s still so much to do. So listening to you, Sara, what would you say as more and more people listen to or learn more about co-leadership, what should they consider? And even when they consider this, what are the next steps?
    00:07:30 Sara: That’s a good question. I think it’s time to dance, right? They’ve gotta learn to dance. Not just learn, they’ve gotta learn to dance with each other, I think. When I’m working with sort of co-leaders and co-founders, one of the things those sort of say is, It’s learning when to come together and when to part is a really key thing. Cause obviously if you’re co-leading and you know, it’s just two of you doing everything, that’s not going to work. If you’re off doing your own things too much and you’re not united. So to me it’s just about being really explicit about, you know clarity of who does what, how do you make decisions? What’s your expectations of each other really? I think it’s very easy just to kind of assume that’s a fundamental piece. So yeah, so dancing as well. And it’s almost like learning as well. Like I used, I like the dancing analogy cause it’s knowing when who’s leading and who’s following it any time. And I think leaders need to, you know, it’s not just about leading, it’s knowing when to follow and being dynamic. So yeah, I think it’s a dance. I’m always dancing with Patrick, who’s my co-founder. And I think you two are dancing as well. So there’s that. And sometimes you try not to tread on each other’s toes. And you try not to push someone away, they don’t want to go too much. But it’s a constant, constant balance really. I think you dance with life and you dance with each other too.
    00:08:52 Paula: And you can dance into a rhythm, that’s what I’m thinking of. You know, you follow a rhythm and you know, you move two to the left, then two to the front, and you find out, mm, somebody’s doing double steps and someone is doing one step. But you’re still getting to that destination or you’re still in sync with each other. I love that.
    00:09:12 Sara: Yeah, you find your own rhythm together. Everyone’s got their own working styles and patterns, and you work within that. And you work out between you. Yeah. And of course, you’ve gotta work out whether you’re tangoing, you’re fox trotting, you’re jiving. And maybe you’re all of those at different times and you’ve just kinda gotta adapt to each other. That’s the fundamental thing. I was in, in fact, I was in Finton doing a dance workshop a couple of weeks ago. And it was fascinating cause we had dancing around and it was around leading as well. And just being able to adapt to each other. And it’s quite fun actually just to dance cause you see when you dance, what you might be doing off the dance floor as well. Like who leads most? Who follows? Who adapts to each other? Who ups the tempo?
    00:09:56 Paula: Ups the tempo, Tesse that’s definitely you uping the tempo. You’re always like, what’s the next step?
    00:10:02 Tesse: Yeah, that is definitely me. But as Sara rightfully said, I think the reason why we are such a good partnership is because we play to each other’s strength. And we kind of know what dance we are in. You know, so that the confusion doesn’t happen. So if we’re doing a quick step, we both know that’s the dance that we are doing. And if we are doing a tango, we know that’s what we are doing. But when you keep on mixing up the steps, if it’s not freestyle, it’s very confusing. Would you agree, Sara?
    00:10:35 Sara: I think so, yeah it is. If you mix up the step. Communication is obviously key. And also you need to give each other space as well to twirl off and do your own little spin too. You know, you need the space as well as individuals. So there’s a real clarity on there. And I think that takes time, really. I mean, I think you two, you’re the great example of co-leadership because there’s a phased approach as well. You don’t just immediately, you know, like anything like dancing, you don’t suddenly go together and it’s all marvelous. It takes time to get there. And I kind of talk about it, oh, there’s like a four stage process really, which doesn’t have to be in order. But I think all of the four process is important. One is just connect a human level. You need to, you know, you don’t even necessarily have to be sort of best friends. But I think you do have to sort of connect around what you’re trying to do and shared values and shared principles. And I think the more you can connect just as human beings the better. First you try each other out and collaborate. Cause there’s some people who can be fantastic dancers, but you’re not necessarily good together. And so there’s a point where you just test things out. You get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And you understand how each other moves and so you can kind of adapt to that. And then I think you get to a point where you kind of make a decision going, are we going to be dance partners? Are we going to do this project together and take it to the next level? And I think there’s a sort of a commitment phase. And then there’s the co-leading really, which is then it’s a journey where you, I think you always try like everything in life you try and improve. And the, you know, you have to work at the relationship. Like any relationship you learn from each other and hopefully inspire each other and challenge each other as well. One of the things I think is really interesting is in the times I do the co-leads, it’s like there’s a mirror up against you. You know, just having that co-leader, someone saying, why are you doing that? Or, what’s your thinking about that? So it just makes you question yourself and learn things as well and learn from each other. So it makes life more interesting too, I think.
    00:12:41 Paula: I particularly love how you broke it down. My background is math and accounting. So when things are just broken down in steps like that. As you said, it’s not necessarily linear, but at the same time there’s a process. I love it. I really do.
    00:12:58 Sara: Yeah. And sometimes, you know, I’ve worked with people who’ve sort of been put together, right? They’re suddenly, you know, or they’re co-leading or perhaps they’ve been there for a while. And they don’t really know each other. And it’s like, actually, and I kind of sort of take them back in a way and start saying, actually, let’s do the simple things and move forward. Cause they’re all important elements to go through. Dancing doesn’t happen overnight, does it? .
    00:13:21 Tesse: I totally love what you’re saying about co-leadership and how you’re comparing it to the dance. In one of my programs. Yes, I’m confessing my favorite programs to “Strictly Come Dancing. And what I love about “Strictly”, and I’ve been watching it. In fact I started watching it in the early version, which was “Come Dancing” back in the day. But what I like about it is when somebody goes from being novice, not knowing anything. And then by the end, if they’re not voted off, by the end you see the same individuals with their pros and they are like different people on their feet. I love that journey. I love that journey from being novices to being that. And when you apply that to co-leadership, what does that tell us? You know, you’ve told us to steps to get there. But what does it tell us about novice to more seasoned?
    00:14:13 Sara: Yeah, I think it’s an interesting one with co-leadership. Cause you know, I’ve worked, you know, sometimes it’s founders. I’ve worked with a library of things actually. They’ve got three founders. It was their first venture and they worked it through together. And they were at a similar stage of life, and they learned and they adapted to each other. Other times, it’s interesting I think that’s sustainability, that you could have someone more seasoned with someone with a fresh approach. Which I think is really fantastic as well. Because both learn from each other, both of them bring something different together. So there’s a massive learning journey, and both can improve. One of the case studies actually on the website is around, Sensational. And the founder was passing over to a new CEO who’s experienced. And there was a level of how much do they share for a while until that handover happens? How much do they learn from each other? How much direction do you give? And I think it makes for interesting journeys, and hopefully in the end both improve. And yeah, it’s that learning journey together isn’t? That’s what life is exciting. And I think in the now I think the world is changing so much as well. I don’t know if anyone seemed, thought they did know all the answers and I don’t know about you, but in some ways I’m less certain than less I’ve ever known.
    00:15:31 Paula: Isn’t that ironical, especially as we live in the information age. But you realize more and more that because we live in the information age and we are aware that there’s so much out there, it makes you even more aware of what you don’t know. There’s a phrase that Tesse and I tease each other with and that’s Google is your friend.
    00:15:51 Sara: Sure is. Yeah.
    00:15:53 Tesse: We love that, don’t we Paula?
    00:15:55 Paula: We do. We’re like, oh, we don’t know, ok. Google is your friend.
    00:16:03 Sara: Yeah, with Google as well you feel like you’ve got some certainty, don’t you? Even if there’s like, even if there’s a loads of different answers, which say different things. Yeah Google is a friend. I always think that people as well, like, you know, there’s people who wanna look backwards to be able to predict the future. I sort of feel for those at the moment, because it’s an unknown world for us all really to explore and learn from each other and try things. That’s why I think in a way this sort of leadership is about, well, is it safe enough to try? Can we try different things and then adapt? And I think one of the things is have the honest answer. Have the honest conversations when things don’t work as well and just try things and pull them back. And I think that’s one thing where co-leadership can be an advantage. Cause sometimes you think, oh, this is a good idea. And it’s quite hard to then pull back and go, actually, you know what? That didn’t work. And so you can have those real conversations together.
    00:16:57 Tesse: Yeah, I love what you’re saying, because what you touched on, which is really important. It’s importance of psychological safety more so in co-leadership. You know, I’m just thinking about the dance when you have the courage and the trust to let somebody lift you knowing that they won’t drop you , you know? And so that psychological safety is really important. Would you agree?
    00:17:19 Sara: Yeah, absolutely. And I think you have to build that as well, it doesn’t happen by magic as well. So understanding that and that’s where, yeah, absolutely. And I think, yeah, whether you’re gonna sort of lift each other up metaphorically, I think it’s really important. That’s where I think having this, like sometimes we put this charter together. And I think it’s just like, let’s talk about, let’s have a conversation just facilitate it as just. Actually what’s important to you? What’s your expectations of each other? How do you create that space as well, you know? Patrick and I, we talk about, sometimes we say, what do we want from each other? Before the conversation where you start saying. Actually, this is a true co-creative space. We’re gonna put something up. Or are you wanting feedback? So you just set the grounds for each conversation. It’s terrible when you come with a great idea and they go, no, and you’re just like, oh.
    00:18:08 Tesse: My great idea. Oh dear.
    00:18:13 Sara: You can ask for what you need and yeah, and have that safety. And I think that’s where the gold comes from really is the co-creation. I’ve been working with this fantastic mind body therapist from a man, Muller. We’ve been connecting, we’re developing a co-creation workshop through movement. And it’s fantastic. The work he does is by moving around and moving in partnership, you build up that trust and that connection physically. And from there we’ve done it ourselves. We’ve had some fantastic ideas. We get into that co-creative trusted space. And actually then, you know, ideas that get generated and the ideas that sort of pinging. Because it is a truly trusted space. So we’re really keen, we’re looking for teams at the moment to explore that and to try that out. Those that are up for some movement and you know, bit brave and courageous though it’s nothing. It’s movement rather than dancing. But just having that physical body connection. And also our mind body. We’re so out of our bodies. We try and work it all out with our heads. And actually if we can reconnect to our bodies we make much better choices and come up with better ideas as well.
    00:19:22 Paula: I love it. I really love it. Are there any tips though you can leave as we are winding down? Any tips that you can share? I mean, if there’s anything left, Sara with our listeners on how to make, you know, co-leadership work.
    00:19:38 Sara: I think it’s about building that trusted space, being very explicit with each other and really talking, I think ahead of time as well about how you might handle different situations to sort of play out different scenarios and different areas so that you can talk things through. Even how you handle making decisions before you’ve got sometimes the emotions or the stress or the pressure from it as well. So I think having those really explicit conversations and say how get this to work? You know, if there’s two people, there’s you two individually, and there’s the co-leadership piece as well. So there’s a third thing to look at, that can be really helpful. And just create those rhythms and those structures around you. And I think it makes sense as well to check in. I don’t know, it’s like marriage guidance. I think sometimes is every, you know, say every three months, you know, whether bring someone else in, but just to focus on the relationship and say, actually this is, you know. Because sometimes it can be silly things. You can irritate each other or not learn from each other. And I just think like with all relationships, just clearing those can really help. So yeah, so I would say sort of nurture and look after the relationship as well as. And make sure your own individual needs as well are met and sort of express those. That’s something I think we find quite confined, quite hard as just individuals is just say, actually this is really important to me and I need this within the relationship for this to be a safe space where we trust each other and we go, you know. I think building that is really important. There’s a co-leadership framework actually, which I can send you the link to, which is really useful. So that’s really looking about all the different areas from sort of having the same sort of North Star and really shared so you know that you’ve got the same principles and the same priorities. There’s been really clear on your roles, both what’s individual roles and responsibilities, and what’s collective roles and responsibilities. Being clear on that. What’s your expectations? How do you behave together? What’s your rituals that you do? How do you make decisions? Yeah. How do you make sure you are on track? You know, if you’ve got a dashboard. How do you hold each other to account? And then finally, how do others hold you to account as well? Because what you need to be careful of is there’s two or three of you, the team around you, do they go to one? You know, it’s like with children, isn’t it? If they go to the mother or the father and they get different answers. So it’s about understanding, is how do you communicate, how do you commute single voices? When do you communicate as a united front as well? So it’s just being a bit conscious, I think about doing it. To me co-leadership I think got really, you know, I’ve seen great co-leadership working. It just needs a little bit of freethought to make it really sing or dance.
    00:22:26 Paula: Love it. Oh, I wish, I mean, this is audio. I wish our listeners could see the passion. You could hear that in the inflection in your voice. But it shows through like you love what you do, Sara.
    00:22:40 Tesse: Absolutely.
    00:22:40 Paula: Really do.
    00:22:42 Sara: Yeah, I do. I do. I’m very, very lucky. I get to work with all sorts of inspiring people, you know, wanting to do positive things in the world really. And to try and do things differently as well. You know, Patrick and I we try and do collective leadership, inclusive governance, sort of shared ownership. Yeah, try to do things a bit differently, better hopefully. And working with people who are looking for different ways of doing things. So no I’m very lucky like that. Yeah. I do love what I do. As you do, as you two do, I think.
    00:23:14 Tesse: Well, we do, we do.
    00:23:15 Sara: I have two big smiles back at me. Very much enjoying your own co-leadership.
    00:23:22 Paula: Oh yes. Oh yes. Oh yes. And to amazing listeners, wasn’t that a fantastic conversation with Sara Ramsey? We wanna thank you so much for tuning in. And we ask that you head over to “Apple Podcast, “Google Podcast”, “Spotify”, or anywhere else that you’ve listened to podcasts and please click subscribe. If you like what you heard, please write us a raving review. We do read it. And if you have questions or topic you’d like us to cover related to leadership and governance, please send us a note. Remember your note can be professional or it can be personal. And last but not least, if you’d like to be a guest on our show, please head over to our website, which is” to apply.
    00:24:21 Tesse: Co-leadership, it means so much to me, but after Sara’s talk, even more so.
    00:24:27 Paula: Me too.