How can your management team lead collectively?

The Roman Republic catapulted Rome from a single city to dominance of the entire Mediterranean world in less than 200 years. One of the sources of its vitality was its collective leadership model. Would it work in modern organizations?

The hierarchical leadership model with one long-tenured CEO that controls the company has been conventional wisdom for the last Century. The underlying beliefs are:

  • Only a single boss can make decisive, non-consensus decisions
  • There must be someone solely responsible for results
  • The boss must have long tenure to ensure continuity

Today, these beliefs look more and more questionable with high levels of CEO turnover. If the best-selected people don’t succeed, should we redesign the leadership job? Alternative leadership models may better fit today’s complex, knowledge-based organisations.

One model comes from theRomanRepublic, who rose to dominance under collective leadership using two mechanisms:

  • Two Consuls were appointed with equal powers, including the ability to veto the other
  • The Consuls had a term of only 1 year

Before dismissing this model as unrealistic, imagine the implications for an organization. It forces the leadership agenda to be shared across the management team, since any strategy would have to be continued by successors. There would be no cult of the CEO – the management team would operate more as equals, with no-one becoming too powerful. CEOs would be less lonely and less stressed.

These “catalytic mechanisms” force collective leadership, with the people at the top united by shared values and a common agenda in a way that could take decades to achieve otherwise.

Ask yourself – if the top people led collectively would my organisation benefit? What mechanisms can I create to achieve it?


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