We all know that CEOs are the de facto leaders of a company. However, in some organizations, where leadership is shared between partners, “Who’s in charge?” is not always an easy question to answer. This is a leadership situation to avoid.

In a recent article, I reflected on a parable by Charles Swindoll, A Rabbit on the Swim Team, which relates the value of putting people into roles to which they are naturally well suited. Another great work, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, gives us further insight in to the management of talent throughout our organizations.

Equality Vs. Fairness

The most famous quote of Orwell’s book, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” tells us that it is neither reasonable, nor possible, to achieve complete equality in division of organizational tasks. Essentially, hierarchy is a good thing.

When entrepreneurs get together to form a business relationship, they work very hard to achieve equality in every sense of the word – but what they should really strive towards is fairness. This ends up becoming one of the biggest dangers of a partnership. From a financial standpoint, creating a level playing field between partners is relatively easy to do. It is almost impossible to create equality as an organizational reality.

If entrepreneurs are going to set up a partnership, they must separate the concept of financial equality and ownership from the discussions of functional strengths and weaknesses, and the roles each individual will play. The discussions about which of the partners is best suited to which role, both functionally and in terms of leadership, need to happen at the formation of the business.

Leadership: A Calling Just Like Any Other

Too often, these critical conversations take place too late, or not at all. Partners believe they are entitled to leadership responsibilities simply by merit of their ownership, when the reality is they may not be effective. Just as we have learned that we need to let our team members use their individual strengths and capacities to the advantage of the business, we need to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities from the top of the organization right on through the ranks.

When too many responsibilities are shared equally, when there is no delineation about who is in charge, partnerships become very tricky business structures. Remember the lessons learned from Animal Farm and A Rabbit on the Swim Team. These lessons don’t just apply to team members. They also apply to an organization’s upper ranks. It is our responsibility as leaders to figure out our strengths, and play to them. So partners, sit down and ask yourselves, who among you, is more equal? Who is really in charge?