A friend of mine recently challenged me with the statement “If you want to lead well you first must follow well.” As an assistant executive director for many years, my attention was sparked to reflect on my role in leading as the #2. It has been said the hardest instrument to play is second fiddle. The bookstores are full of leadership tomes that espouse how to lead up front but few directly address how to do so from the second chair.
I came across this idea while serving at my church. In Leading from the Second Chair, Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson highlight three paradoxes of second chair leadership.
- Subordinate-Leader, the first paradox, is to boldly lead like a first chair, not just manage stuff, and yet realize the first chair can step in to change or reverse your decisions. Doesn’t this describe association executives working with volunteer boards? I believe I could make the case that every association manager is a second chair leader.
- Deep-Wide is that expectation of knowing a little about every aspect of the organization and at the same time providing hands-on leadership for major projects. Questions come every day about advocacy, finances, strategic planning and insurances without any of them being a primary responsibility. Executives call on us regularly as the “go-to guy/gal” to lead major efforts. I sometimes think “all other duties as assigned” is the most used part of my job description.
- Contentment-Dreaming is the last paradox of which simultaneously calls on leaders to dream and imagine what could be, how to improve and shape the future. It is about seeing the possible and bringing those dreams to the many voices of reality in the association. I see this in comments like, “Jay you keep thinking and bringing ideas; we will let you know which ideas have potential.”
Leading is a challenge and the paradoxes second chair leaders face are unique. Are you a second chair? Which paradox challenges encourage or resonate with you?