Behind the Scenes of Co-Leadership

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If Money Were Easy

Hosted by Mary Beth Storjohann and Neela Hummel

Behind the Scenes of Co-Leadership

If Money Were Easy
If Money Were Easy
Behind the Scenes of Co-Leadership
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Episode Summary

On this episode of If Money Were Easy, Mary Beth Storjohann and Neela Hummel take you behind the scenes of what co-leadership looks like and share their unique journey to becoming Co-CEOs of Abacus Wealth Partners. They explore balancing work and family life while also managing their time through delegation and outsourcing. They acknowledge the unconventional nature of their arrangement – discussing the skepticism they faced and the need to explain why collaborative co-leadership was best for the company – and highlight how their visions for servant leadership and serving others drives them. Hear what the tradeoffs of co-leadership are, and how maintaining effective communication, avoiding ego conflicts, and building a united front helps them overcome feelings of insecurity while maximizing their flexibility, presence, unplugging time, and mutual personal growth.

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • The necessary qualities for successful co-leadership
  • How to overcome initial feelings of intimidation and insecurity in a co-leadership role
  • Ways co-leadership can benefit organizations compared to traditional solo leadership
  • Challenges in maintaining a unified front and avoiding competition
  • How different working styles and strengths contribute to co-leader success
  • The ways a supportive relationship allows for flexibility and work/life balance in a co-leadership role
  • Steps to building a strong and effective communication style
  • How delegating and outsourcing tasks makes an impact on productivity and focus
  • Thoughts on whether co-leadership is a model more organizations should consider

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Transcript of the Episode

Mary Beth [00:00:14]:

Hey there. Welcome to the If Money Were Easy podcast, the show where we teach you how to expand what’s possible with your money. We are your hosts, Mary Beth Storjahann –

Neela [00:00:24]:

And Neela Hummel – 

Mary Beth [00:00:25]:

Certified financial planners and Co-CEOs of Abacus Wealth Partners. Today on the show, we are going behind the scenes to talk about co-leadership and how Neela and I approach the topic, what it looks like inside of Abacus, and how we work together. 

Neela [00:00:41]:

But before we jump in, a brief disclosure from our Director of Compliance. This podcast is for educational purposes and is not intended as investment, legal, or tax advice. Any opinion shared is not the opinion of Abacus Wealth Partners. Oh, boy. Let’s do this, Mary Beth. 

Mary Beth [00:00:58]:

Let’s do this. I would just like to say that I’m in a spinny chair right now, and Neela has had to stop me from falling over three times. We are in a room together recording this and not in a virtual environment. So this is a first. 

Neela [00:01:11]:

Which I’m so glad because you point out one of the benefits of co-leadership, which is contingency planning.

Mary Beth [00:01:16]:

Yes.

Neela [00:01:16]:

Right. In the event you fall off said chair and break an ankle, I got your back.

Mary Beth [00:01:22]:

Great. Thank you. I feel so supported in this role. So co-leadership, this is something that not many people are doing. We’re going to get the backstory of how Neela and I ended up in this role, how we approached it. And we were actually advised not to do co-leadership by a handful majority. It was like a handful, quite a few, everybody. But we pursued it anyway. We did a lot of research, and so today we want to dive into what it looks like because we’ve had a lot of questions. There’s a lot of interest in how we’re approaching it. And we have discovered quite a few things over the past 18 or so months that we think would be beneficial for people to hear. 

Neela [00:02:03]:

I love it. So maybe we start at the origin story and give a little background. As many of you know, Mary Beth and I are Co-CEOs of a registered investment advisory firm, so financial planners by trade, and have been in the Co-CEO position for roughly 18 months. What many people don’t realize is that we actually applied together.

Mary Beth [00:02:24]:

Yes. We were not placed together.

Neela [00:02:27]:

We opted in. And Mary Beth, how did we come to this decision that we wanted to submit ourselves for consideration as a package?

Mary Beth [00:02:36]:

Well, I joined Abacus in 2019, and so you and I worked closely together. I was holding the CMO role. You were Chief of Advisors. I was in the seat, like twelve months. Twelve months. And then a little thing called COVID hit and the whole world turned upside down. And you and I found ourselves coming together quite a bit to work with our respective departments and our respective roles. And really working to make sure our employees felt cared for, motivated, seen throughout this process, working in a hybrid environment, remote environment. So we collaborated a lot during that time. And fast forward to the end of 2021, we found out our previous CEO, Brent Kessel, would be stepping aside, and we were faced with the option. So they were doing an internal search for the CEO role, for the successor. And Neela and I during that time said, “Okay, well, we’ve been working together quite a bit, and we can choose to move forward and apply for this role together, or we could apply individually.” And so I think we both went to our respective corners, thought about it. We did take the time to think about solo or together, and what could it look like if we were to do it individually, what would we want? And if we were to do this together, what would we want? And I think we came back together and we thought together is better. 

Neela [00:03:57]:

Yeah, like you said, we both went through our own processes, right? I think we’re both big journalers. We took a lot of notes down. We researched other companies who have done it before, both successfully and unsuccessfully. And I think what we kept coming back to was this idea of the CEO role carries a lot of different responsibilities.

Mary Beth [00:04:16]:

Right.

Neela [00:04:16]:

And the thing that was so fun collaborating together when we were in our respective roles as CMO and Chief of Advisors, was really leaning on each other’s expertise and what really lit each other up, because CMO Marybeth is just a marketing whiz, genius, vision, incredible. And I’m a little bit more on the spreadsheet operations side. 

Mary Beth [00:04:38]:

You love the spreadsheet. 

Neela [00:04:39]:

I do love a good spreadsheet. I’m not going to lie. I do excel at it. 

Mary Beth [00:04:42]:

Yes. And Neela is fabulous. Just, I mean, in terms of taking care of our people. When I started at Abacus, people called Neela ‘Mama Neela’ because she was such a nurturer and carer and protector of our people and our employees. And so that, hand-in-hand with the marketing, we just collaborated so well together in terms of where we wanted the company to go, how we wanted to care for and motivate our employees. And yeah, I think that was the starting point. So we decided to work together and decided that we wanted to do this jointly. We did make that decision, and then we went into the research mode. We decided, let’s do this together. And then we thought, “Okay, what are all the benefits and pitfalls?” So we did research, “Okay, what could go wrong? And who has done this and who has done it well and it could go right?” 

Neela [00:05:28]:

And we also knew heading into it that we needed to make the decision for ourselves, but ultimately, we would need to convince the Board of Directors that this was the move. And so I think in doing that, doing our due diligence, we wanted to feel good about where we’d land and we also wanted to be able to anticipate a lot of the questions that we would be asked of real concern.

Mary Beth [00:05:47]:

Right. And that was where we did anticipate. We did understand that going into this off the bat, we did not want it to be an issue for our employees or for the organization. Co-leadership, we felt, was a one-plus-one equals three situation and we wanted to make that known to the Board of Directors. And I think we were very clear of areas that it could go wrong as well. We address those right up front – here are the pitfalls if there’s not good communication, how it could impact organization, what could go wrong with co-leadership? 

Neela [00:06:18]:

I feel like there are a number of things that could go wrong with leadership in general, but I think one of the things that is most important is communication. And you mentioned this about we didn’t want to make it more complicated for our employees. We also didn’t want there to be any triangular communication. So we make the joke you can’t use mom against mom, there’s you not piercing the wall. So in terms of what can go wrong is if there’s not great communication – both between you and me and between the rest of the staff – if it creates more confusion, that could be a major downside. 

Mary Beth [00:06:48]:

Yeah, that was one of the biggest ones, communication and then also ego. I would say if we’re in it in terms of competing against each other or trying to be one of us, trying to be in the right versus the other or trying to one up each other, that’s where it could break down as well. If we’re focused on who gets the most attention or who is getting the win, that was one of the things that we wanted to make sure that we articulated as well and that did not show up. And I will say it doesn’t happen overnight. So we knew that we don’t want anybody pitting mom against mom. We know the ego side and we have done a lot of work to make sure that that is the case. And so in talking about how we show up for our employees internally, this is our perspective. Maybe we’ll bring on an employee after this to see what they think, but we really show a united front. I think that’s the biggest thing that when we have disagreements, we hash them out behind the scenes and we show up united together. And I think that’s the biggest thing is we are not always on the same page and we have to have some big conversations and some heart to hearts. But we take that time and we invest in each other and we’ve invested in our relationship to understand our communication styles and how we work best. And that has paid dividends, I think, to the organization. And we’ve been able to follow through on that communication style, again, making sure that people know that we are a unified front and anything they tell me, you will know, and anything that they tell you, I will know. 

Neela [00:08:13]:

100%. I think the other thing we talk about is making decisions and if you have one CEO, it’s technically easier for that one CEO to make a decision and run with it.

Mary Beth [00:08:22]:

Right. 

Neela [00:08:23]:

One of the downsides is potentially it takes longer for us to make a decision. And I think what we found is we’ve actually turned that into a positive because it might take us a little longer to make the decision. But the quality and the caliber of the decisions feel better because you’re talking with somebody who has all of the same information that you do. 

Mary Beth [00:08:41]:

Right. 

Neela [00:08:42]:

And that’s kind of a rare situation. Most times you pull in your trusted advisors who know certain departments really well, but we’re both looking at the same chess board. 

Mary Beth [00:08:51]:

Exactly. 

Neela [00:08:51]:

And then we’re different people, so we’re going to come to different conclusions. And then between the two of us, we get really excited about where we land. 

Mary Beth [00:08:59]:

Exactly. And there is a meeting in the middle on many things and that is truly what’s best though, because we’re not looking at somebody coming out winning. I think it’s a meeting in the middle situation and then both being unified and how that is communicated to the staff. So I think it’s huge. And you’re right on the decision making, being able to share that information, know that somebody is in it next to you, they’re in the arena with you. And we both bring our different perspectives, our points of view, and spreadsheeting, and then the visioning and the growth aspects and the employees knowing that we’re bringing those aspects to everything. And the ability to just bounce ideas around and talk about it and turn it over with somebody is so freeing. Right? It’s so freeing. And we talk about that. It’s lonely at the top. That’s the biggest thing we’d say is it’s lonely at the top. And our biggest thing is like, “What if it didn’t have to be?” 

Neela [00:09:44]:

Yeah, that seems unnecessary. I mean, this idea of having a trusted person – where no matter where you are, especially when you’re making the hard decisions, where it feels like nobody wins – somebody that you can really just talk through and say we know that this is the right thing to do. We know this is the right thing for the business. It might not land great, but we know in our hearts it is the thing that takes care of the business. And somebody that really kind of gets it helps in those moments. 

Mary Beth [00:10:10]:

Let’s talk for a minute just about the idea of power and ego. As women, we are so often not in the room and not at the table and there’s all of the myths and the tripe out there that women compete with other women, right? So that’s almost like there’s only one that can be at the table, queen bee syndrome that has the ability to throw us off course. But how have you approached it in our relationship in terms of power and ego? 

Neela [00:10:34]:

I mean, I think it comes down to the fact that you and I both have very similar ideas in terms of what leadership means, and that ultimately it’s the responsibility, and that we care so much about our people, our staff, and our clients that we want them to win. It’s this idea of servant leadership, that we’re really just trying to do the best work we can to elevate the company and to take care of the people in the best way possible. And that’s it. If the company does well, you and I aren’t sitting back looking for the credit, right? Because it’s the other people that did it. We want to help steward and steer and be worthy of the company and the responsibility that we’ve invested in. But it isn’t about either one of us. And I think that’s what makes a huge difference, where it feels so exciting to celebrate you, right? Celebrate a win that you have or some external certification Board acknowledging you as a leader or as a speaker or as an advisor. It’s so exciting and it’s not a zero sum game. 

Mary Beth [00:11:39]:

Yeah, servant leadership is exactly it. We are so focused on the impact. And that’s not to say that we’re not competitive, because we are competitive and we are Type A overachievers. I’m not going to act like there’s no ego or ambition in this room because obviously we’re in this seat for a reason. And so we are still very career/goal-driven and want the best. But we are very much about serving our people and creating the impact in the world that we can. And I think it’s really easy to not feel seen when you’re in the role. And there is a reason they do say it’s lonely at the top because you are holding all of the information and you’re not getting a lot of the credit. You’re not going to get it. But if we’re doing our job right, we shouldn’t get the credit and the company is growing and people are happy. That’s not about us. That’s about us making sure that our people feel empowered, our leaders feel empowered, and it’s getting passed down. It’s so often easy to feel neglected or victimized when you’re in this role as a CEO because you’re so alone in that narrative that we can paint for ourselves. But taking the ego out of it and being able to focus on the people and seeing the joy in their lives and knowing what’s happening in their lives. Knowing if somebody is losing a mother or a sibling or there’s a death in the family or a sickness or a baby is born or an anniversary is celebrated or our client service associates need to be lifted up. And taking that time and building those relationships is so important. That’s the area we focus on. It’s making sure that other people feel seen in their stories and their experiences, whether it’s employees, whether it’s clients, even in our communities, the pro bono program we do, I think focusing on that impact that we can have in other people’s lives is what brings joy, I think, to our role. That’s what keeps us in it. If I’m just looking to step on others and grow this thing bigger and better, how do you motivate somebody? What’s the incentive for somebody else if you’re just looking to make yourself better?

Neela [00:13:20]:

And why would they want to stick around for that? That doesn’t feel good. It’s so funny because we’re obviously in the investment space, and the most important investment we can make is in our people.

Mary Beth [00:13:30]:

Exactly. 

Neela [00:13:30]:

Because we’re in the service industry, we want to make sure that our people are able to do the absolute best work that they can.

Mary Beth [00:13:37]:

That’s the best thing for our clients. Exactly. 

Neela [00:13:39]:

Yeah, it’s that trickle-down feeling. So let’s go back a little bit to the negative encouragement around people telling us, “Don’t do it”. What have you heard in terms of when people know that you are a Co-CEO? What are the common questions you get? What are some of the skeptical comments you might receive and how do you deal with those? 

Mary Beth [00:14:02]:

I think the biggest question is how does that work? Or the assumption, the surprise when we do say that you and I opted in together, that we requested this role and pitched ourselves together. There’s a lot of surprise when that part of the story comes out. But it’s mostly a why? Why would you do that? Why would you not want the authority for yourself? Why would you not want the power for yourself? They don’t actually say that, but that’s the assumption that’s underlying it, that it won’t work. You read any leadership article, then it’s like one person has to be in charge. One person has to make the decisions. That is the way that it has always been done. And so you do see there are a lot of organizations that are breaking this mold. And we did research leading up to this in terms of other companies that we were able to share with the Board. But I think that’s the general overarching theme, even being advised internally as we were going through this is why would you do that? And so even as we pitched ourselves to the Board, let’s be honest, they pulled us aside and said, “Well, would one of you be willing to wear a different title? What if you were both put into roles but one of you was CEO, one of you is president? There’s different options available.” And so even the Board at first, and that was probably a test also to make sure that we were truly in this. Are we serious? But even our Board wanted to make sure. “Why would we want to do this? And why is this the best thing for the organization?” Which I think is – fabulous questions that they came to us with. 

Neela [00:15:17]:

Yeah. And putting us to those questions, I think we tried to preempt as much as possible and then work through what it would actually look like. Because to your point, we’ve done a lot of work, right? 18 months in, we’ve learned a lot of lessons in working style, working communication. What are some of the other big ones?

Mary Beth [00:15:32]:

I’d say the other thing going to the Board, it wasn’t just, “Make us Co-CEOs because she was Chief of Advisors and she was CMO.” I think the biggest thing is also moving two key strategic leaders from our organization up to a different level and leaving some vacancies in some other areas in the organization. So that’s a huge shift in ask of the Board. We went to the Board with a plan in place in terms of our chart and how we would work together and divide things. So it wasn’t just, hey, one-plus-one equals three. It was one-plus-one equals three. Here’s how the chart will be divided. Here’s how we’ll divvy things up, here’s who will report to both of us in one to two role cases, but really being clear in those areas. 

Neela [00:16:08]:

And allowing us to really answer the ‘how’ where it’s like, “Great, this is all well and good, but what does it actually look like? And people know, what does it look like behind the scenes? What happens when you disagree?” And you mentioned earlier we disagree behind closed doors, we disagree privately, and then come out with a united front. 

Mary Beth [00:16:25]:

Yeah. And I will say one of the things that Neela and I did early on is we worked with a Strength Finder coach who helped us to learn our different strengths and identify them and come together to understand, “Okay, how does Neela operate? How do I operate?” Because initially, it was learning. We had to learn. Neela loves spreadsheets, and I also love spreadsheets, but sometimes I don’t necessarily love all of the data as much. And Neela loves to gather and learn and know and articulate. And I would try to go on that journey with her, and that was not a productive use of time for either of us. Whereas, I need time in a corner just to creatively think and strategize to see something so that I can articulate the vision and work to motivate staff and tell a story around it. And that’s not what Neela wants to do, either, because she’s like, “Look, I got spreadsheets to look at and things to do, numbers to crunch, to understand, profit margins and different areas.” So, between the two of us, we learned to give each other space and then come back together to communicate. So now Neela goes on a journey, and I would say, “Okay, you go on that journey. You let me know when you’ve got your three to five high level details, and I’m ready to talk about it, but I can’t go there with you.” And then she’d say, “You need to go sit in a corner for 4 hours.” Send me to the thinking corner. We’re still working on buying me a chair. But that was a separate thing. We felt a little bit, as we were in this role, trying to kind of model each other’s working styles and really figure out how to stand on our own. And I think figuring out the things that drive each of us individually has been really helpful for us to understand, “Okay, I don’t need to do that. And she’s not expecting me to do that. This is the container that we set, and I’m going to stay over here in this space and trust that she’s got it.” And then we come together to communicate certain things. 

Neela [00:17:54]:

I may or may not create presentations just for Mary Beth. 

Mary Beth [00:17:57]:

She does. 

Neela [00:17:58]:

And it makes me so happy because I go down all these different journeys, and then I’m like, here’s the takeaways. And she’s, like, perfect. 

Mary Beth [00:18:05]:

Neela loves a good slide. Loves a good slide. Whereas I’m like, can I put the notes in a Google Doc? And can somebody make my slides pretty? Somebody, please? 

Neela [00:18:13]:

Which I think has also brought up something that we’ve done, is that in the beginning, it was easy to duplicate certain work. We’re trying to do exactly what the other one was doing, and then, of course, realizing we are doing this because we bring different skills. 

Mary Beth [00:18:25]:

Exactly. 

Neela [00:18:26]:

We started doing a better job of dividing and conquering in terms of you’re going to create these slides over here? Okay, I’m going to go speak to this group, what have you, instead of duplicating work. 

Mary Beth [00:18:35]:

Yes, exactly. And it’s figuring out what brings each other joy as well. And so we even, in the beginning, we divvied up who’s external, who’s internal on staff meetings, who’s doing the prep for that communication. Like, what lights each other up and how do we have me drafting something and then Neela coming in and editing it, or Neela drafting something and I’m coming in and editing it. But it’s not us both working on something. It’s somebody taking the lead on each thing and then making sure, again, that if it’s in both of our voices, if it’s from the office of the CEO, that we both basically have agreed on any of that big messaging. 

Neela [00:19:04]:

And, I mean, I think we should also talk a little bit about what went on in our personal lives in taking this jump. Both married. We both have little children. I think we got this role, and we had five kids, under five kids. 

Mary Beth [00:19:19]:

They’re seven. I have the oldest seven. And under, soon to be eight. Eight going on 13. 

Neela [00:19:26]:

What worked in your family situation to make us be able to pull this thing off?

Mary Beth [00:19:31]:

The fact that I’m absolutely crazy? No, but what’s the second thing? The second thing? So I have a very supportive husband and Brian has been supportive of my career. I mean, from Day One he has been. And from launching my own business to this transition into Abacus, which was funny that the transition to Abacus was supposed to be me actually slowing down on things that worked really well. Really well. And so when it came time, this role opened up and this idea of, “Do we do it?” And I think we both said, and I think you were probably the same if we didn’t do it, if it didn’t apply. I’d always wonder, Brian’s, always so patient like, you’re going to peek behind the curtain, you’re going to peek and then you’re going to pursue, and then you’re going to do it, that’s probably like, just like a little look. But he’s been on Board since Day One. And I will say from the support aspect, because we have young kids, he and I hate this term, but if we had to say like a default parent, I mean, he is the one that’s on call. I happen to work remote also, I should say. So the other really unique thing about our co-leadership here is that I’m not in the office on a daily basis. I work from San Diego and I come up to the office once a month or so for a few nights. So Brian, though, is the one with the kids who are sick or if something like a room parent (is needed), he steps in for all of that. So all of the parents at school know Brian and he is wonderful and supportive. But I think that’s been the number one thing and then a lot of outsourcing and delegating. This role has taken time. It’s been setting expectations with my kids. Early on, I felt a lot of guilt when I had my own business and it’s been getting a little comfortable with that over time. I do miss some things and that’s just inevitable. I can’t be at everything, but making sure that I maximize those moments with them. So I’d say those are probably the big things that were happening on my side. How about you?

Neela [00:21:16]:

Yeah, well, I was just going to add one of the things that I think you’ve done a really great job of modeling for me is the hard boundaries where you’re like, “Yes, I’m going to do this kid’s birthday,” and a number of things where you’re like, “Absolutely not. Do not work hard, no.” And that’s just been awesome to see because it shows that we’re often put in these positions of either/or. 

Mary Beth [00:21:35]:

Yes. 

Neela [00:21:35]:

And it’s like, okay, we got to pick our spots. And that saying of we’re all just leveling a lot of balls and we just have to kind of figure out which ones are glass and which ones are plastic. 

Mary Beth [00:21:44]:

Yeah. And I’d say you and I both work really hard and sometimes we do have some late nights. We do scheduled sends on our email, though, for the boundaries. We want to model some sort of balance for our employees. And I think for the family aspect, we have wonderful benefits at Abacus. And if they don’t see us spending time with our families or talking about our families and our kids and celebrating that when there’s so many employees here who also have young families, I fear that that changes the culture. So for our employees to see that we are spending time and able to do the baseball games and spend your Saturdays there and talk about that, I think it’s important to model that.

Neela [00:22:16]:

Signing off on vacation, right? That’s what we tell people to do. If we’re not doing it, we’re sending the wrong message.

Mary Beth [00:22:21]:

Yeah. 

Neela [00:22:21]:

I mean, on our side. My husband had a very large role and as soon as I got this role, we basically decided to take his foot off the gas because we needed more of a primary parent. So he ended up taking a much more flexible role with a pretty significant pay cut. Knowing that we were doing this together and again, super supportive, incredible human being. And it’s just made it possible. And we should add that our husbands are actually now becoming best friends. 

Mary Beth [00:22:47]:

They are. It’s really fun. It’s really fun. I would also say the other thing that’s wonderful. I’d say for the co-leadership aspect of where we are in our lives and even being able to have the young kids, having a co- actually allows us to unplug. I can go on vacation and know that you have it. You have the calls, you have the meetings. That being able to trade spaces and step in when each other is offline, that really allows that freedom and flexibility. And I think that’s often overlooked when it comes to that balance aspect. And this is not a job share. That’s the biggest thing. This is not us, like, doing a job share. This is us both holding the title and working together to collaborate on things. So that’s the other really great benefit is being able to step in and give each other that time and space. Maybe I shared this already, but when we got the CEO role, right after we were supposed to do a town hall, and my uncle died early last year and we were just stepping in. We were supposed to announce our vision to the company. And we’re new to this and I’m just a puddle of mush, and it took a lot because I don’t like asking for help. Neela has learned that. But we’re getting so much better at that, telling Neela I couldn’t do it. We were just going to move forward with the town hall the next week. And I was just going to show up and talk to the company. But I went to you and I was like, “I can’t do this. I need space and time.” And you’re like, “I’ve got this, I’ve got it. We’ll push it back a couple of weeks and take your time, unplug.” And I was able to, right? And that was so beneficial and just so wonderful to be able to have that space for those life events and going back to how we work better together. That allowed me to recharge and to come back fully present as opposed to feeling stressed and trying to balance it all in a scatterbrain kind of way. 

Neela [00:24:22]:

And holding it in in a very high profile role and situation like that. 

Mary Beth [00:24:28]:

There’s a lot of underlying benefits as well that benefit of just how we are able to show up for our employees. Because even if we are on the floor, sometimes we are able to collaborate together, spinning out and then coming and showing up for our employees in this wonderful way. Because even being solo, all CEOs have that spin out moment. But there’s the element of lifting each other up and being able to laugh. That’s the biggest. Probably if there’s a key, there’s a lot of laughter. There is a lot of laughter because it’s just – sometimes you just have to laugh, that aspect of it. This is a very serious role and we love our employees and the clients, but I think being able to laugh and find the joy in it together. One of my favorite parts about this. 

Neela [00:25:06]:

We haven’t really talked about the gender component here, but McKinsey and Company just came out with a study where twice as many female leaders are leaving the workforce as male leaders. And one of the reasons that they state is because the asks on female leaders are so much higher, right? That they’re carrying the culture, also carrying the strategic decisions, and kind of all these big pieces that a lot of women are frankly burnt out. And when you think about one of the benefits really of co-leadership is it gives us that time to sign off and creates better longevity and keeps us from really burning out. There’s a huge value to that from a company standpoint. 

Mary Beth [00:25:41]:

I completely agree that’s it, you talk about the office housework, and I think that was some of what we were doing during the pandemic and we willingly did it. I think that was one of the things, we saw it. We jumped in because, again, we care so much about our people and that carries forward, obviously into the CEO role. You’re definitely formally responsible for it now and so being able to make sure our people are taken care of, but yes, to take a break and be able to check out and recharge, it’s beneficial.

Neela [00:26:06]:

We got to throw a special nod, I think, to our Board of Directors because when they agreed, when they appointed us to this role, they took a chance because it’s not as common as the model as I think you and I believe it should be. 

Mary Beth [00:26:19]:

Right. 

Neela [00:26:22]:

But they really took a chance on us, and I think we’re forever grateful that they did.

Mary Beth [00:26:24]:

I completely agree. The communication aspect of it, I think that’s one of the lessons that we’ve learned. So the open lines of communication with our Board, with employees, we potentially even over-communicate sometimes. But when you’re running an organization, you have 70 people, you can’t tell somebody something too many times is what we’ve learned. And so the communication with the Board and the support and the collaboration in some ways has been really wonderful in getting feedback and the excitement. When they did appoint us, there was remembering that moment in time where they let us know that we had been appointed. And then Neela and I called each other to do a quick scream. 

Neela [00:27:00]:

Quick scream, quick screen before we were put in our places. 

Mary Beth [00:27:02]:

Yes, by my child, who demanded me to fix something. But the Board, throughout even the past 18 months, everybody’s on a learning journey together of us being able to loop them in on, “Here’s how we’re working, here’s what we’re doing,” and giving us that space to figure it out and giving the feedback. But the communication in general, the open lines of communication and inviting people in, that’s paid dividends as well. 

Neela [00:27:26]:

So if we were to leave our listeners with one good key takeaway on this, what’s the one piece that you would really say? What’s your major “Aha!” moment? 

Mary Beth [00:27:37]:

I think it doesn’t have to be lonely. At the end of the day, you don’t have to go it alone. I think there are risks in place depending on what your vision is for the organization or for the role that you have. And so you want to make sure that you’re aligned in where you are driving the position or the company to. But if there is low ego and if there is alignment on vision, there are tons of benefits to the company and to employees and clients, to having co-leadership. 

Neela [00:28:05]:

Love that. 

Mary Beth [00:28:05]:

How about you? 

Neela [00:28:06]:

Surround yourself with brilliant people, starting honestly with you. When I think about how much I’ve learned from you. I want to be Mary Beth when I grow up. And so, still working on that.

Mary Beth [00:28:15]:

I’m looking to be Neela. We do show up dressed alike to some meetings now, so I have noticed that. 

Neela [00:28:22]:

Which is really funny because I’m 5’11”. Mary Beth, you’re five-three on a good day. 

Mary Beth [00:28:28]:

Five-three on a good day. The posture is right. Twins. Great. Wonderful. Back to the conversation, in the beginning of the episode, about my feet dangling from the chair. That is why being open and being able to learn from each other, that’s where in the beginning, maybe it was a little bit like I think there is some insecurity. Like, I remember being super intimidated by you. You are brilliant. You are so brilliant. And being able to take the armor off to be like, “Hey, sometimes I might not feel good enough or smart enough.” And I think being able to say that out loud to each other is really important because everybody feels that. There is not one person in a CEO role who’s not felt unqualified at some point in time or unsure. And if they haven’t felt that way, you probably have the wrong person. Yeah, you probably have a problem. But being able to talk about that and lift each other up and not just passively look over the fears and say, “Oh, no, you’re wonderful, it’s fine.” I think it’s being able to lift each other up and be like, “Here’s the areas we can work on, or here’s what I’ve noticed.” And we really challenge each other in certain things and try to encourage each other to learn and grow in our own ways as well. And that’s what I love. It’s not just about like, “No, it’s fine and you’re wonderful and you deserve it.” It’s like, “Yes, and here’s how we can continue to grow.” Neela and I have no shortage of goals and things we’re looking to accomplish in our careers and all of the free time we have. But that’s the part that I love about our relationship as well, is that we can lift each other up and we can support each other as we continue to grow. 

Neela [00:29:52]:

Yeah, I love what you said about taking off the armor. I think that’s been so great. And just putting ourselves out there, being like, “I’m working on this, I’m not there yet. I could really use some help.” 

Mary Beth [00:30:01]:

Yeah, exactly. 

Neela [00:30:02]:

That’s all I got to say. 

Mary Beth [00:30:03]

That’s all we got on co-leadership. There might be more to come. 

Neela [00:30:06]:

We did write a blog about this. 

Mary Beth [00:30:07]:

We did.

Neela [00:30:07]:

Which you can find on our website.

Mary Beth [00:30:09]:

You can. Yes, we will link to that in the show notes. But we are going to be sharing more about this journey within the industry and in other areas going forward since it is unique. We are getting interest from people asking us about how we’re doing it, employees included, and how it’s working behind the scenes. Now, you’ve heard a little bit, any employees listening? But we’re looking forward to sharing more of how we’re making this work because we hope that it models something different, at least for the financial services industry and others in their roles as well. 

Neela [00:30:33]:

Absolutely.

Mary Beth [00:30:34]:

Thank you. Thanks, everyone. Financial knowledge is for everyone. If you enjoyed today’s episode of If Money Were Easy and you’re looking for more tools and resources to expand what’s possible with your money, head to www.LearnWithAbacus.com, Abacus Wealth Partners’ e-learning platform, offering a variety of courses to empower you in your financial life.

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