One valuable lesson I learned very early in my executive career was that a capable, reliable and loyal deputy is indispensable. While you are busy focusing on the road ahead and attacking the myriad of problems at the pointy end, there must be someone you trust implicitly to maintain the cohesion and momentum of the rest of the team. As leader of course you cannot divest yourself of the overall responsibility for the direction and welfare of your team, but knowing there is a reliable and capable 2-i-C is important not only to you but the other team members as well.
The crucial role of the deputy leader is often unheralded but their contribution to the success of any venture or organisation should be recognised and celebrated. Although more often than not the role of the deputy is overshadowed by the high profile of a more prominent leader, the rest of the team will be grateful for their guidance and support.
In a recent article by Brad Borkan who is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and author of books about polar explorers, he comments on the extraordinary achievements of such deputies as Frank Wild, second in command to Earnest Shackleton on the fateful Endurance expedition. In the featured image Shackleton is on the left with Wild next to him. It was in fact Wild who stayed with the 21 crew on the desolate Elephant Island for four and a half months while Shackleton and others went for help. As Borkan points out “Remarkably, all the men on Elephant Island lived because Frank Wild bonded them as a team”. Although the deputy has to be able to assume the role of the leader when the leader is absent, they retain their own personae and therefore must have innate leadership qualities in their own right. Borkan also references the ill-fated Scott Antarctic expedition which I too used to exemplify leadership traits in an earlier Blog post called “Leadership frozen in time“.
Rarely will our contemporary deputies be placed in circumstances of their teams facing life and death situations, except in extreme industries perhaps like underground mining or deep sea oil drilling. Nevertheless, there are some very real instances where good second line leadership is necessary to ensure success or avoid failure.
In some situations formal lines of authority give way to de facto deputies who are recognised by the team for their abilities and are looked to in times of uncertainty for interpretation of the leader’s vision. These people usually have a good appreciation of the individuals within the team and the team dynamics that unfold in challenging situations. They tend to be able to manage internal rivalries and balance the strengths and weaknesses within the team by their diplomacy and affinity with the group.
In any event, every leader needs to acknowledge their reliance on a good deputy and should ensure their management of that person reflects appropriate appreciation.
How well do you appreciate the leadership qualities of your deputy? How much time do you invest in developing those qualities in your deputy and in letting them shine? How often do you commend and support them in the presence of other team members to show your confidence in them?
How often do you just say “Thank you for being there.”?