Who’s Your Second? Are We Really Leading, or Just in Charge?

Are you indispensable?  Should you be?

We make the plans, give the orders, follow-up on everybody and everything.  Nothing happens without our say-so.  The machine is humming and we are at the controls.

It feels like leadership.  But is it?

Who's Your Second? Are We Really Leading or Just in Charge?

Holding it All Together

Stanley was charismatic and brilliant.  Taking the helm of the household gadget company his father helped to found, he reorganized and re-energized it.  With keen insight and through force of personality, he introduced new products, cut costs, and invested strategically.

Under his direction, his company posted forty consecutive quarters of earnings growth.  After 10 years as the CEO, he stepped down, having quadrupled annual sales.  Under his guidance, the company was an amazing success story.

Stanley’s successor, his “second,” lasted only one year on the job.  Those who followed also struggled, and within a few years, the company was in such bad shape, it was bought out by a competitor.

It might be easy to conclude that since the company fell apart after his departure, it was further evidence of his greatness as a leader.  But as Jim Collins points out in Good to Great, what happened after Stanley Gault left the helm of Rubbermaid, actually demonstrates a critical fault.

It Feels Like Leading

OK, so let’s pause a moment and ask ourselves this question:  Are we the only ones who can do what we’re doing right now on the team?

If our answer is “Yes” it might feel good to think so.  That makes us a valuable asset.  The team needs us.  As a result, our job security probably looks pretty good.  Our sense of self-worth is likely doing well, too.  And so long as we are on the job, it’s “steady as she goes.”

And it feels like leadership: everyone comes to us for our say-so; we make the decisions and give the orders.  If we weren’t there, the roof would likely cave in.  It all depends on us.

But that’s the problem.

Like Stanley Gault, business may be thriving right now under our direction.  But there is more to the job than today’s receipts.

There is more to #leadership than today's receipts. Click To Tweet

As leaders we are responsible for more than just ourselves – we all know that.  But it’s easy to overlook the idea that this responsibility includes not only the here and now, but also extends into the future.

We aren’t fully doing our jobs as leaders until that future is secure for the team. To do that, we need to be training our “seconds,” the people who will keep that machine humming after we are gone.

Here are six reasons we need to be identifying and training our seconds if we really want to be great leaders.

6 Reasons to Train Your Second

It opens doors for us.  If all we can do is what we are doing, that’s all we’ll be able to do.  Not because we aren’t capable of more, but because we haven’t given ourselves the option.

We’re too busy being the single point of control in our current position. When will we have time to learn to do anything else?  Add to our network?  Broaden our experiential base?

And how can upper management afford to move us up a floor if everything depends on our being right where we are with both hands on the controls?

We become a more attractive prospect if we can show that our team is ready to fill the gap when we step up to the next level.

It opens doors for others.  The best new-hires are those that come from within – there is less that we have to show them, they already understand the culture, and they know many of the players.  They can become effective much more quickly.

Preparing others for the next higher position gives them a sense of future possibility within our organization, which in turn builds loyalty, reduces turnover, and strengthens the culture.

It makes us better leaders.  When we invest more time and effort into the development of our seconds, they become more capable, and they can take on more tasks.  That then opens up our schedules for other things.

We can take that time bonus and reinvest it in important leadership actions we’ve been neglecting like building relationships, visiting our team in the trenches, or devoting even more time to developing others.

It makes us more efficient.  As we train our seconds, more people can get more done; team versatility and adaptablity improve.

Through developmental delegation our teammates can make more decisions faster at their own level, reducing bottlenecks at our level.

It deepens accountability.  Teaching someone else how to do something is a powerful way to help us gain a better grasp of it ourselves.  The very act of explaining what to do and how to do it to someone who is capable also helps us see that task more objectively.

As we talk about what “right” is supposed to look like, we can see where we may be falling short even as we are showing it to our seconds.  Since it’s natural to want to look good in front of others, this is a great spur to our own performance.

It secures the future.  If we’ve done it right, the gears will continue to turn, even if we decide to retire to an island in the South Pacific tomorrow morning.

Those who come after us will know what to do and how to do it, and the organization will survive to produce for another day.  The futures of both are secure.

Who's your second? How are you using today to prepare them for tomorrow? #leadership Click To Tweet

Who’s Your Second?  The Takeaway

When we became leaders, the focus shifted from the “me” to the “we,” and that responsibility extends from the here and now out into the future.

If the team collapses like a house of cards the day after we leave, that’s not a testament to our leadership; it’s more of an indictment.

There are plenty of other practical reasons we need to be putting energy into identifying our seconds and investing in their development.  All of them make us better, stronger, and more capable individually and collectively.

It’s easy to get so overwhelmed by the tasks of being in charge today that we can lose sight of another of our leadership responsibilities:  tomorrow.

Yet by focusing on the future we can become better leaders today.

Who’s your second?

Lead on!

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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