I'm the decider! Well, 1/2 of one, anyway. Is that ever a good idea?
December 15, 2011 11:01 PM   Subscribe

i've been offered a co-directorship position for an International Scholars Office at an academic organization. I need help thinking through the pros and cons of accepting. Can co-directorships ever work? Would you ever want to be a co-director?

I've been offered a co-directorship in an office where I am currently the Associate Director. I've known the director for 10+ years, and while our strengths and styles are different, we've managed to make it work for quite well - expanding our office from 2 to 10 people.

There is a new initiative - a new institute under the office - that which will expand us to 13 people. He wants to take the lead in fostering that effort, so he proposed a co-directorship - a sharing of power in the following manner: We both work on strategy, he handles external relations and outreach programs. He also handles the staff involved in the establishment of the institute (about 7 people total). I handle internal operations and visa/legal issues, as well as the staff focused on the current tasks (about 6 people total). The work is a good deal of what I currently do, except that I'd be freeing up some of his supervisory responsibilities, and entirely responsible for the direction around managing operations.

While I know his offer is sincere, my only experience with co-directorships was seeing a fellow office where it worked poorly. In that situation, it seemed that one of the co-directors was carrying the other, and it wasn't clear who had final say, or how they made decisions. It was confusing. Individually, they wouldn't have made good directors either, but I think they thought they would compensate for each other's weaknesses.

I've got about a week to decide, and I'm not even sure what criteria I should be using to assess the situation. An extra snag is that our provost is also a little wary of co-directorships also - I'm not sure he's ever seen any work.

I know both my boss and I would be committed to doing to work to make it work, because we would both gain something, and are both committed to serving international scholars, the success of our office, and our group. But I'd feel a lot more confident if there was some awesome book out there called, "Co-Directors 101. Everything you need to know". So I'm wondering if there are any examples of successful co-directorships, or if you're in one yourself. Any book/article suggestions on organizational management, leadership, etc. are appreciated. How do co-leaders make decisions? Did they have different areas of responsibilities? Have you ever witnessed an ineffective co-directorship scenario? What are some of the pitfalls one needs to avoid? What are some best practices? Should co-directors always make the same salary? How would you feel about working in an office with co-directors?

I adore my office, and my team, and don't want to agree to an organizational model that would adversely affect it. So, is joint leadership possible, or is it one of those ideas where head start shaking as soon as you mention it?

Thanks Hivemind!
posted by It's a Parasox to Work & Money (5 answers total)
Having been a Director of an department in academia including responsibility for International students affairs, I'd wonder whether this suggestion might not be better framed if it were allowed that each of you carried the title Director, but specificied your operational areas of focus in the title - is it a headcount problem that makes it a Co-Director? Or is it that its two people at roughly the same pay grade? What if you're you're both each Director, Operations and Director, External Affairs with joint consensual responsbility on overall strategy as they say? I'm not clear why it needs to be framed as Co-Director
posted by infini at 2:30 AM on December 16, 2011

"my only experience with co-directorships was seeing a fellow office where it worked poorly. In that situation, it seemed that one of the co-directors was carrying the other, and it wasn't clear who had final say, or how they made decisions. "

It seems that you could allay yours fears with clear, written down, decisions on these issues. Who, exactly, does what? (It sounds like you've got this covered.) If there is disagreement, who gets the final say? (If you are truly equals, then I'd imagine each of you would have final say over your own domains.)
posted by oddman at 6:18 AM on December 16, 2011

I've seen co-directors would when it is clearly established what the different roles are and that the directors meet eachothers' weaknesses.
posted by k8t at 6:51 AM on December 16, 2011

Hmm, infiniti - I had not thought of that - clearer delineations of leadership in the different responsibility areas. That could help. You're right oddman - I need to clarify what my fears are, so I can get a handle on them and articulate them clearly. And thank's k*t - it's good to know that someone has a datapoint of this working. Thanks for your feedback!
posted by anitanita at 10:00 AM on December 16, 2011

In many non-profits, these roles are split as Executive Director and Managing Director, where the ED takes the outward-facing role and the MD the internal operations role. It helps make it clear to internal and external stakeholders what the division of responsibilities are, and might be easier for you, if you're not in fact going to be "equals", whatever that might mean.
posted by judith at 8:09 PM on December 16, 2011

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