4 Strategies For Selecting The Right Second-In-Command

Selecting the Right Second-in-Command Is the Biggest Decision An Entrepreneur Will Make, which he will have to make at some point in time in his journey as an entrepreneur if he wishes to grow big.

4 Strategies For Selecting The Right Second-In-Command

Selecting the Right Second-in-Command Is the Biggest Decision An Entrepreneur Will Make, which he will have to make at some point in time in his journey as an entrepreneur if he wishes to grow big.

The most important decision an entrepreneur makes is picking their second-in-command. And in a role often associated with outsized ego, the great business leaders are the ones who take the bold decision of hiring someone who in many respects is better than they are.

Canadian entrepreneurs call their deputy 2iC, short for second-in-command. The term is British military shorthand for deputy commander of a unit, but in Canada, it has become a business idiom.

The 2iC concept really captures the spirit of the position better than the standard titles do. It has a simplicity and honesty that many titles are missing. At the same time, the title clearly states the authority it commands and the responsibilities attached to it.

The nature of almost every startup is that we fight for our very survival daily for the first few years. In those early years of a company, there’s not a lot of room for pomp and ceremony. We scrap because 95 percent of startups fail. C-Suite titles? Chief Executive Officer? Chief Finance Officer? Chief Operating Officer? Chief Information Office? Seriously? In the early-startup stages, we often sit at an old desk in a small rented office space with hardly any staff. So, Fancy titles? Give me a break!

Your deputy might be someone who wants to avoid the spotlight -- or perhaps someone willing to wait for his or her turn in the top job. But what’s more important than the leadership structures taught in business school is to have a 2iC who is better and smarter than you are. In what ways? These, at least.

1. Stands By You

Great founders start things because they have to. They are so filled with conviction, or desperation, or both that they have no choice to grind forward. It's almost a biological imperative. Following a dreamer like you while you chase your vision, however, requires courage and someone who believes in the cause. Think about how Steve Ballmer supported Bill Gates at Microsoft, taking care of the nitty-gritty business of management, while the founder imagined new ideas.

2. Better Organisor Than You

Founders tend to be dot-connectors and over-the-horizon thinkers. Great 2iCs are a walking database of practical resources, people, finances, timelines, objectives, and tactics. And the real magic comes when they add structure around you without challenging your leadership. This person must fit hand-in-glove with you, and work that closely too.

That’s not going to happen if they’re just like you. Think Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Coming from Vadnagar, Gujarat selling tea, and studied only up to high school, Narendra Modi picked Amit Shah as his Second-In-Command, who comes from a family of successful businessmen. Modi had the charisma, Shah could muster the votes to turn ideas into laws. This pair has successfully brought to fruition one agenda after another, right from being in governance at the state level to the national level.

3. Is More Experienced Than You

Your 2iC needs to know the terrain, the industry, and the quirks of your business better than you do. Most importantly, a great 2iC is more battle grizzled than you. Think Sonia Gandhi. When Congress won the election in 2004, she selected Manmohan Sigh as Prime Mister and unexpectedly relinquished the premiership to Manmohan Singh. The experience to govern the country was no longer a concern.

In no way am I suggesting or implicating that Manmohan Singh was Second-In-Command to Sonia Gandhi. In fact, to ensure that her party governs the country well, she willingly elevated his position to being premier of the party. The example is given only to highlight the importance of the point discussed.

4. Is More Humble Than You

One of the things that made you a founder was your willingness - even your desire - to put your ideas and your reputation in the spotlight. Most founders are not shy and meek, so finding a 2iC who’s a little comfortable with a lower profile is likely a good thing. That might be someone who wants to be groomed for the spotlight, or someone happy to remain in your shadow. Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett gets the credit as the world's best value investor, but behind him is Charlie Munger, who quietly beats the stock market year after year. Munger might have avoided the spotlight, but he has become a self-made billionaire.

Almost sounds like I’m saying you need to find a better version of you… than you. Doesn’t it?

Yes, that is what I am saying! You want a 2iC that makes everyone say, “Is it my imagination, or is your second-in-command smarter than you?”  Or, “No offense, but I prefer working with your 2iC.” Your team members should be comfortable turning to your 2iC with their questions and their problems. You want your board members to glance subtly at your 2iC when you tell them something, to visually gut-check that what you said is on-target. This has another advantage, it frees you from day to day hassles of running the company and allows you to dream & think about bigger business ideas & challenges you might face in achieving them.

It's a tall order, of course, because you’re also seeking a second-in-command -- not a leader. Many of the kinds of people who meet all the criteria I’ve laid out above are seeking the top slot, and frankly, the one you want is good enough to do it.

In the end, a great deputy is a tool that will help you get the job done right. Archimedes may have preferred a lever in his quest to move the world, but I’ll take a phenomenal 2iC.

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