I’ve been somebody’s “#2 guy” for the majority of my career. I’ve been someone’s Commander Riker to their Captain Picard for almost 20 years. And, yes, I realize I’m dating myself with this analogy. Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of my favorite TV shows from the early 1990s.
My first major experience in a secondary role came during my high school and college days. During this time, I often had the privilege of playing second trumpet to strong first trumpet player personalities. In fact, I was so good at being a second trumpet player in college that I gained the attention of a hot-shot doctoral candidate who ended up forming a brass quintet down in South Florida. He enjoyed my attention to detail in following his lead, so he asked me to move down to Florida to play in his quintet.
My second and current major experience in the number two role includes holding the role of associate music minister. I’ve had the opportunity to hold two positions at two large churches under the leadership of two strong music ministers.
As a result of these experiences, I’ve learned a lot about secondary leadership roles.
Why Is The Second Chair So Special?
The number two position is unique because it requires a continuous leadership dance. There are times when you have zero authority. You are doing everything your boss wants, no questions asked.
Then, there may be times when the boss is out of commission (vacations, health problems, etc.) and you assume full authority. You call all the shots. You make the difficult decisions [Just think: Captain Picard is turned into a Borg and Commander Riker now becomes Captain Riker].
During the majority of the time, though, there is a give and take of leadership. Your boss may hand off the baton for you to lead, and then he may reel you back in and take the baton from you. Your leadership role may vary depending on project circumstances.
For those of us as second chair leaders, though, the consistent, daily action is a continuous evaluation of our leadership position. We are always asking ourselves the question, “are we currently in a position of leadership or are we supposed to be following right now?”
5 Thoughts On Playing Second Chair
- Always praise your boss. Publicly and privately, say nothing but great stuff about your boss. You may or may not always agree with everything he says and does. That’s okay and it really doesn’t matter. He’s the boss and you play a supporting role to him. Give him the respect that he deserves.
- Understand how to “ride in the boss’s wake.” This is difficult to explain if you’ve never truly led in a secondary role. If you’re a musician, then you will probably understand what I’m about to write here. When I play second trumpet to a strong first trumpet player, I’m constantly following their lead. I’m listening for their volume, pitch, articulations, phrasing, and more. I’m attempting to match and complement how they are performing. And, I do something similar in following the leadership of my bosses. I’m always asking myself, “how can I match and complement their performance?”
- Ask the right questions in the right way. There will be times when you don’t agree with your boss’s leadership or decisions. Depending on the situation and circumstances, you may or may not feel the need to “put yourself out there” to discuss disagreements. But, whenever you do feel the need to talk through a decision, always be sure to do this respectfully, behind closed doors.
- Always defer to your boss’s leadership, unless you have been clearly handed the leadership baton. In the leadership dance, if you’re not exactly sure who is in charge at a particular point in time, then always submit to your boss.
- When you have been handed the leadership baton, don’t be afraid to lead with excellence. Just because you’re now in the head leadership position doesn’t mean that your leadership needs to be inferior to your boss’s leadership. In fact, I’ve always attempted to make sure there was a zero perceptible dip in excellence, quality, or leadership ability when handed the baton. The mission of the organization must continue with excellence, whoever is in charge.
Questions: How about you? Do you play a secondary leadership role? Can you relate to my thoughts and personal experience? Do you have any thoughts to add to my list?