“I really want my chance to be part of the leadership team. What is the big deal. I can do what they can do and then some.”
These or similar thoughts are not rare in business life, especially in organisations in which marked hierarchies are actively lived. It is in these organisations that titles including the words ‘vice’ or ‘deputy’ sometimes gain an almost negative aftertaste. “He obviously did not make it into top leadership” or “At that age still only deputy – a clear case of being parked”, is what we then often hear across the hall.
And so the discontent amongst managers of the upper management levels grows fuelled by the nagging question of ‘where to’: “Where does my career actually lead me to? Should I not be much further along by now? Why have I not yet made it to the top?” In some instances, this discontent can even lead to attempted mutiny dragging in its wake enormous potential for destruction.
Focussing on company success for the benefit of its employees and customers then often becomes the last thing on people’s minds. Resulting from this zero-sum game is tremendous damage for all – participant or not.
What if the question of ‘where to’ is replaced by something more personal and potentially more insightful: “What do I really want? Do I feel happy in my support leadership role?”
Just because we generally assume that everyone wants to play the first violin, does not mean this actually reflects reality. In fact, admitting to being happy as second violin, with the opportunity to significantly add value in a support leadership function, seems these days almost unheard of.
“You really should strive after your boss’ position and openly show it. This pays testimony to your ambition and focus”, someone once said to me. This regrettably short-sighted view does not support organisations’ needs to bring the best out of people, since it is the “leaders behind the leaders” who oil the machinery and ensure success through a collaborative way of working – with the best interest of their C-level leaders, their employees and their customers at heart.
Nowhere has this been better analysed and presented than in Richard Hytner’s book “Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows“, in which he in entertaining and original ways demonstrates that being a supporting leader, a “Consiglieri” as Richard Hytner calls it, does not automatically result in second-class citizenship or a life as frustrated schemer within an organisation.
To the contrary. These people often serve their organisations and customers as highly creative, intelligent, strong and loyal leaders in close collaboration with their C-level leaders. Particularly between a supporting leader and his or her C-level leader, chemistry is the key to success. This includes the mutual respect for each other’s abilities and differences. Because depending on which side of the spectrum you stand, you need, as Hytner so aptly describes, very different skill sets.
Not everyone can be a capable number one as much as not everyone can be a brilliant number two.
Find out what you are best at and how you can contribute the most to your organisation.
And be proud of it. Titles are just labels. It is the meaning you fill these labels with that counts.