Leading From The Shadows

When I first became the CEO of a large global company, I could see how dependent I was on others.  My own efforts would be meaningless without many others supporting me.  The top job is often the one in the brightest spotlight, but that person’s success or failure is always the result of a team effort.  Usually a very small group—or even one individual—takes on the key supportive role.

Many people dream of becoming President or the leader of the organization.  Some people realize that they are best suited and happier in a supportive role or as number two.



When #2 is the Key to Success


Richard Hytner is deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, responsible for global strategy and innovation.  His recent book, Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows, is a celebration of the No. 2 role.  This book made an impression on me because I am dependent on the “No. 2’s” and now better understand the role and the motivations.  I also feel better equipped to coach people who are either not looking for the “No. 1” role or are best suited for the supportive jobs.

Richard was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about his journey.

Richard, becoming No. 1, you argue, is not always the key to success.  Why not?

Success is best defined by yourself, not by others.  So, if becoming the No. 1 is really important to you, give it a go, see how happy it makes you feel and assess – candidly – how others respond to your leadership from a position of ultimate accountability.  You can, however, be enormously successful on your own terms leading from positions other than the overall No. 1, achieving great things and deriving deep personal satisfaction.  Get rid of the No. 1 and No. 2 in your head and simply weigh each job as an opportunity to test every leadership muscle, not only the one that makes the final decision.

image004Tell me about your personal journey.  When did you realize that being less than “No. 1” was where you would be happier and more successful?

I learned early in my career that leadership is a collective endeavor and, as a CEO, I always surrounded myself with the smartest possible people.  It was only when I took a year out, aged 43, to do the Sloan Fellowship program at London Business School that it dawned on me how many brilliant people there were enjoying significant accountability in roles other than the CEO.  Even though it took me a further three years as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi EMEA to work out that I could and should try leading without the authority of a Chief Executive, it was at London Business School that I woke up or, rather, grew up.



Understanding Different Leadership Types


You define “A” leaders as accountable for the enterprise and “C” leaders as the Consiglieri who counsel, support, and deliver for the A.  What are a few differences of what you term “A” and “C” leaders?  

A leaders love the ultimate Accountability.  They thrive on the adrenalin of action and, increasingly, they need to perform impeccably in the limelight.  They can be project leaders, team leaders, divisional heads, heads of functions, kings and queens of cabinets and committees.  C leaders love to coach, counsel, challenge, sometimes check their A leader.  They are typically happier shaping outcomes, and delivering them, than making the final decision on which direction to take.  All leaders in any leadership job wear, to some extent, both A and C leader hats, making decisions on behalf of the unit for which they are responsible, whilst at the same time, counselling an A leader to whom they themselves are accountable.



What strategies have you learned, as a number two, about approaching and influencing your boss?image001-3

All A leaders want to feel liberated.  Take the weight of the world off their shoulders.  They want to be enlightened, so give As ideas that are fresh, provocative and unexpected.  They need anchoring, so tell it as it is.  Just choose your moment wisely. None of which would be enduringly useful if you do not also make things happen for the A.  Develop a reputation for being a thinker and a doer, or you will run out of usefulness fast.

You introduce new categories.  Take the lodestone.  What makes someone a lodestone and how does a leader work with this type?

The lodestone has a magnetic quality, taking tasks off the A leader’s plate, liberating the boss from the tyranny of tedium. Lodestones need to be prepared to do the unglamorous work with good grace, and, caddie-like, to know every detail of the course ahead. The best As give their Lodestone’s lashings of autonomy and show their appreciation for the drudgery they have been spared.


Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows

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