What does it take to be second in command

What does it take to be second in command

Imagine being the number 2 to a great leader. Maybe you are the right hand person of an industrialist. Or you are the vice president of a great nation.

How do you think? What are the forces that you balance in your head?

Interestingly enough, there are not many resources or books devoted to how to fulfill this role in an effective manner. Many books are written about the number 1 position. Many more are written about how to be an effective independent contractor.

The blueprint of the psychology of a second in command is fascinating to me, because it combines two very interesting ideas.

First, you have to have 99% of the care and devotion of the leader, and know that your passion is to drive the business forward.

However, you also know that you will never reap the level of rewards of the leader.

Now maybe this is a simplification. I'm sure there are examples where second in commands are compensated very well, as well as seconds in command that are not motivated to be number one.

Or it could be as Terry Pratchet describes it:

““Being Ymor's right-hand man was like being gently flogged to death with scented bootlaces.”

In this piece, we will be talking about what the three main personality traits are for a second in command, and what are some takeways you can take to help drive further success in all your endeavours.

The three main skill sets of any second command are:

  • Leadership Gap: Know where to lean in to fill the gaps
  • Strive for Alignment: Translate the vision into an operational plan
  • Identify the Key Priorities: Make sure that everyone knows the North Star

Be the leader 24/7

Leadership means a lot of things. But in the context of someone that is a second in command, the role leadership takes a different meaning.

In this context, what you are aiming to do is find where the leader does not have the time / ability to command, and lean in to help support the leaderships vision.

Often the leader has many external facing requirements and audiences to act as a leader for. They may have investors, boards, the public or other external stakeholders to account for.

This leaves the internal audience. The leader often does not have time to step in as a leader for this audience at all times. However, this is just as important as the external stakeholders.

This is where the second in command really shines. They are the people that are making sure that the internal audience are taking care of. That the whims and the concerns of the internal audience are listened to, and the actions of those are taken care of.

What does that mean for you? If you're looking to shine more in your workplace, or if you are interested in growing your own leadership sense, try to find the gaps in your environment where you are able to drive change and add value

Get everyone on the same page

The leader sets the vision. The second in command translates that into reality.

That can look like many different ways. It can look like bringing the 10,000 view to ground. Or see how the big picture thinking can be codified into achievable and bite sized chunks.

But most importantly, what it means is getting everyone on the same page.

You see, there's often many leaders below the second in command that all have ideas on what success means. They are driven by what they see in their point of view. They all have the best interests of the company in mind, and while they want to help, they are doing so from their vantage point.

As the person closest in command to the leader, it's your job to ensure that everyone is aligned to the same goals that are closest, and most authentic to the vision laid out by the leader.

This will mean lots of meeting and lots of back and forth. It means that you will have to dig into the trenches and ensure that you come out the other side with the perspective all aligned.

What does this mean to you? If you are driving for a big goal, or if you are driving for a big vision, make sure that everyone is one the same page.

Once you're all on the same page, make sure you're aligned on the order

You have all the teams aligned. In fact, everyone is raving about the goals and the shared vision.

But now you're hearing different things. Some people are talking about how we are gung ho on focusing on project A and driving the result for initiative B.

However, you're now hearing that there are other people that are focusing on project C, and driving the result for initiative B.

What to do in this situation? Whenever you read books about getting people align, they always talk about aligning on the outcomes and the initiatives.

But never the timelines. Even though the timelines are actually the most important thing to align on.

Everyone wants to help and work and contribute, but we all have limited resources, so we always want to ensure that we are driving initiatives in the proper order that makes sense.

Therefore, it's up to you as the second in command to ensure that not only do your lieutenants know what the plan and vision is to get everything on the same page, you also need to ensure that timelines and priorities are all aligned.

What does this mean to you? If you are driving for a big goal, or if you are driving for a big vision, not only do you have to drive people to the same outline and outcome, you also need to ensure that they are all aligned on the same set of priorities.

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