The importance of number two

In his book, The Courageous Follower, Ira Chaleff outlines the role the “second in command” or the number “twos”, followers, and members of an organization at all levels of the hierarchy can play to support leadership and ultimately the mission of the institution. Followership, as it is sometimes called is critical and requires a unique skill set that can be developed and practiced. In this instance, I would like to focus specifically on the role of the number two; the second in command, the right hand man/woman. Of course, as a CEO, having a strong number two is critical, and this principle applies to leaders of any segment of an organization whether it is a department, division, or geographic region.

What is often the case, especially in the era of leadership that exists today, is that a CEO often represents the present and the short-term future of an organization, and sometimes the past. The number two often represents the present as well, but also the long-term future. As CEO, there are a myriad of immediate issues and fires that are always burning that require a particular type of thought and attention, often at the highest strategic level. A number two often interacts with more levels of the hierarchy in a unique way that combines the high-level strategy with hands-on involvement that can affect an organization’s culture, morale, and tone through multiple leadership regimes. Certainly in the credit union industry as in other industries, a CEO is pulled in a myriad of directions that often take them out on the road or into high level meetings during which time a number two is tasked with running day to day operations. Even if these times are fairly infrequent, they can have a serious impact on morale and even the success or failure of an organization.

I have personally watched this play out in government, business, trade associations, and credit unions. In Congress, I can recall a committee chairman who was vague in his selection of a number two, leaving several people to feel they held the position. It led to disaster as there was constant turmoil and infighting. Not only did it reduce productivity, but created embarrassing situations for the chairman. Alternatively, and also during my tenure in Congress, I knew a South Florida businessman who had built a multi-million dollar enterprise. His number two was a woman who, while holding the title of “Executive Assistant” was effectively running the business as her boss became older and more detached. When he died she took over the entire organization and continued to run it for years with great success.

Since I have been involved in the credit union industry I have watched CEOs and leaders handle the number two situation in quite a few ways. One instance in particular, came to the forefront during the corporate crisis. In this instance, a CEO’s absenteeism, and the lack of an on-site leader was highlighted as one of the key factors in their troubles.

As a number two, one of the most important things you can do is be honest, forthcoming, and direct with your boss. A leader does not need “yes” men and women, and of course, also does not need constant nitpicking and criticism. Keeping a clear head and staying mindful of purpose is not always easy, especially when the masses begin to push one way or the other. There are times when a number two plays the critical role of corner man or woman to their boss. Knowing when and how to stand-up and support decisions and actions, and when and how to provide constructive feedback are critical skills for a successful number two.

As a CEO or leader there are other factors to be considered as well. Establishing a relationship and reliance with your number two (or not as the case may be) can have an extraordinary impact on your personal life which ultimately can affect your job performance and career. I have watched many leaders who are lacking in the ability to delegate, and therefore take on the total, unnecessary burden of doing it all themselves. With extreme effort, energy, and dedication this can work, but it almost always takes a toll on the individual and family. More times than not, it does not work at all. As we move through mid-year, and prepare our budgets for next year, make sure you budget to keep strong number twos throughout your organization happy! The ROI on these investments will stay strong for years to come and will be felt not only in your organization but in your personal life as well.

Daniel Mica

Daniel Mica

Dan Mica, former head of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), established The DMA Group as a means to combine a myriad of experience into a one-stop consultancy. Elected in ... Web: Details