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July 2020

“It allows us to be really ambitious” – Think Ahead’s Co-Chief Executives speak to The Guardian about joint leadership

Think Ahead’s Co-Chief Executives Ella Joseph and Natalie Acton have been interviewed for an article on joint leadership in The Guardian. The article examines the challenges and opportunities of job sharing, especially in leadership roles, and asks whether the pandemic might provide an opportunity for organisations to re-examine their ways of working.

Speaking to Graham Snowdon at The Guardian, Ella and Natalie recounted how they came to jointly set up and run Think Ahead: After Natalie was offered the opportunity to set up the charity, she reached out to Ella – a fellow civil servant whom she only knew vaguely – and suggested they split the Chief Executive role.

Explaining why she chose to reach out to Ella, Natalie said: “Of all the things I was struck by, it sounded like Ella’s values would be very similar to mine.” From the beginning, both had the same vision of how they wanted to run the charity, and “that has made it very easy to make decisions together”.

Since then, Ella and Natalie have managed to turn the Think Ahead programme into one of the most popular graduate programmes in the country, with over 30 applications per place. The charity has recruited more than 500 people, training them to become mental health social workers, and they, in turn, have supported thousands of people with severe and enduring mental illness.

While joint leadership remains a rather unusual working arrangement, figures show that it is getting more popular – including because it has the potential to redress gender imbalances, increase diversity, and improve decision-making in leadership roles. The coronavirus pandemic may provide a further opportunity for organisations to re-examine their leadership arrangements.

Ella and Natalie each work three days a week, which means they have at least one overlapping day to hand over work to each other and discuss the next steps.

Ella admits that there are challenges: “To give that seamless front does require a lot of work offline.” But there are also immense opportunities. Ella explains that the additional day of Chief Executive time “allows us to be really ambitious. So for example, every year Natalie and I meet every one of our participants on the programme, developing those relationships, and that has really paid off.”

Read the full article in The Guardian.