Categories
Leaders Letter Newsletter Leadership

Leaders Letter 159 – The Company Number 2

Dear leaders, the fight for the number two position has been something coveted for many years. 

I recently received an email from a leaders letters subscriber asking about “the mythical number two role” so I wanted to tackle it in a dedicated leaders letter. 

Being the right-hand person, the next strong voice and then the trusted partner is something many professionals try to acquire and manufacture their way into this converted slot. 

Being trusted by the number 1 (CEO or founder) is a double-edged sword and one you might just struggle with.  

The Expectations 

  • Your expectation is your colleagues around you have to listen
  • Your colleagues will come to you for buy-in and support – improving your position as the number 2 
  • Your colleagues will ripple this news through the organisation and the rest of the business takes this on 
  • The rest of the org will listen to your every word and look to you for answers and additional support 
  • Leverage (leverage the people, leverage the unofficial title, leverage the opportunity) 
  • The validation will create respect 
  • You are next in line  

The Usual Reality 

  • The number two spot is often an impossible position 
  • Your colleagues around the exec table do not trust you, this sends signals to the rest of the org not to trust you  
  • You can be seen as the #1’s puppet – only delivering on their requirements and actions 
  • When there is a requirement to challenge the number 1 you will be torn to protect and defend vs do what is best for the wider org or your department 
  • Your own team’s trust often erodes over time – you become dislocated from your team and your loyalties are questioned constantly 
  • Your own “number two” will take aim at your position and authority and very often unpick your position at the seams while you play an unofficial company number 2 role 
  • The number two often doesn’t take the leaders chair when they leave or are removed 

2 Political 

Very often the number two is posturing, it’s a political minefield and you as the number two have to be so politically savvy, you have to embrace your IQ, EQ and PQ in rotation and this can be exhausting.

The company culture is often manipulated the most by this number two person and can work for and against them, most often going against them as they are in the most questioned position within the business. 

When company culture is so important to your performance many companies make the mistake of entrusting the number two to make the right strategic plays and bets to improve the company culture. Very few will put the company first when their own personal stakes and game plan have been years to play out. 

Waves Of Change 

Despite the largest company trends, over the last 15 years, it has been CFOs transitioning to CEOs, then COOs transitioning and most recently it has been CPO who takes on the CEO role once their boss moves on. 

CFOs, COOs and CROs are often in the number two position, you will see this play out over and over in mid to large businesses and often in smaller businesses or startups you might even see co-founders having to battle it out with external “adults” to take over the reins of the business. 

Very rarely does the internal number two actually take over from exiting founders or co-founders and often the move onto another business is harder for them. 

Likely Outcome – Interim 

Like in sports, you become the caretaker manager, you take temporary charge of the team. You will know quickly how your tenure will go, likely quickly and then you have the fight all over again. 

In business the number 2 can take over as an interim lead, however, it is often seen with resistance and a full-time leader comes in to replace the interim. 

Big change in business is rarely a good thing for the supposed number two and this is often overlooked by them. 

Having been positioned as the number two on a number of occasions it rarely worked out for me – going into any situation like this with eyes wide open will only benefit you and the business. 

Protect You & The Business: Are you the number 2 within your business, how have you protected yourself and prevented many of these called-out issues to protect you and move the business forward? I trust so. 

This week’s focus action is to review how you are positioned within the business and understand how your position might be negatively impacted by the perceived “rank” you are in or represent. 

Thanks and have a great week 

Danny Denhard

.