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Lucy Ball is a leadership coach and facilitator

The roles we play in pairs

Pre-teens weren’t even a thing when I was growing up, but now I have one. I can already hear those of you with adult kids smirking smugly about the decade we have ahead of us.  This disruptive new phase in our family has shone a light on the parenting roles that my husband and I tend to play. By default, we have been cast in two polar opposite roles – one good cop, the other bad.

This polarising of roles happens in families all the time. If there are two sisters there is the quiet one and the noisier one. If there are two brothers there is the carefree one and the anxious one. We define each other in contrast and by comparison.  In coaching work with pairs, it is obvious that there is often something similar going on in organisations; two leaders working closely together are defined by their occupation of different ends of a spectrum. For example:

·      The FD is focused on detail while the CEO is a big picture thinker

·      The Chairman is controlling while the new Non Exec Director is empowering

·      The MD manages upwards while the Operations Director keeps the troops happy.

Noticing these polarised roles can really strengthen a leadership pair’s influence on their organisation.

Firstly it helps to appreciate our differences. A detail-focused partner gives me freedom to focus on the bigger picture; we can divide and conquer. And if we put our heads together and really combine our perspectives, our decisions are likely to be better informed.

However it is also vital not to be stuck in our roles. If we notice the roles we are cast in (by ourselves or by others) we don’t have to play to them.  My husband and I have realised that being able to move up and down the spectrum of good cop and bad cop is something that we each need to do if we’re going to survive the teenage years. So it is with two leaders working closely together. Being able to occupy the right role in the right context and in relation to one another is a key skill of leading together.

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