Leadership comes in many forms — leaders can be democratic, autocratic, charismatic or bureaucratic; they can lead from the front; or lead by example. But behind every great leader, there is always an equally great second-in-command. Whatever leadership style your CEO, President or Prime Minister decides to take, he or she will only make it work with the back-up of a talented Chief of Staff, Deputy or Personal Assistant.
It’s not about winning or losing when one is professionally a Second. Look around you. There are so many great leaders who are out front because of strong Seconds. In the government as well as private sector arena, a Chief of Staff is the glue to keep the ship sailing. Senior Advisors bring learned wisdom in weighing up intricate and complex decisions. Executive or Personal Assistants make sure the Leader is kept on schedule and able to get from here to there to do the leading! Department heads, directors, team leads, all serve the CEO’s vision for implementing the organisation’s strategies, projects and programmes. Each has a role. Each is key to furthering the mission of an organisation or government.
Interestingly enough, one of the most illustrious leaders of our time, Nelson Mandela, saw this extraordinary value and his creed for leadership was aptly put: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
I was the second daughter to be born in my family; the fourth of five children (two squared!). My place in the sibling hierarchy was ideal training in how to make sure my voice was heard, my point was made and that I got a slice of the pie with the others — skills which have stood me in good stead throughout my career in travel & tourism.
But being Second in the family ranking means sometimes you have to accept certain circumstances with humility. In my final year at summer camp for example, the head of the camp came to tell me that they had decided to award the Camp Spirit Trophy to my younger sister instead of me — their reasoning was that because I was older, they felt I would better accept being second! An interesting decision on their part. Yet learning to deal with occasional humility is an invaluable skill for a professional Second later in life.
It’s the Second’s advising role that I see most valuable. The individual who stands in the Vice President or Vice-Chairman, Deputy Secretary, or Executive Assistant’s shoes has great influence, helps to gel the ideas of the Leader and drive the agenda forwards. Not being out front gives them more time for investigation of policy positions and follow through. While the Leader is out there carrying the flag, the Second is often back in the boiler room making it all happen.
The other day I heard a newscaster report the results of a big track sporting event, stating that one of the contestants had to ‘settle for a silver’. Settle? The athlete won a silver medal for goodness sakes versus no medal at all!! I would have been thrilled. We consistently see this negative attitude to coming second at the Olympics as well. Any medal is a major achievement in my opinion.
It’s the same in business. The Second is all too often overlooked, but I see being Second as a huge accomplishment. The Second is usually the unsung hero of an organisation. He or she may not be in the spotlight, but their ideas and results definitely are.
Think about the Marketing Director of a destination tourism marketing organisation or advocacy firm such as WTTC in charge of getting the key messages and images across in the most effective way. The heads of Policy in private sector as well as government Tourism Ministries make sure Travel & Tourism is clearly considered in top decision-making deliberations. The heads of Research ensure the empirical evidence for framing the argument and defining the importance of the T & T sector in economies and community development, for example. Successful events management, effective industry relations for ensuring cooperation, creating the right packaging and distribution systems all require strong Seconds for getting the job done!
Being a Stellar Second takes special qualities. Confidence. Expertise. Humility. Pride in thought and work. Belief in the mission. Solid teamwork. Empathy. Motivation.
So let’s give it up for the Seconds — they are the ONES to be given credit. The best Seconds are definitely not second-best.