Some people would rather be a deputy than the boss. There’s a skill to ‘leading from behind the curtain’, writes Carly Chynoweth. Nicky Little from Cirrus comments in The Sunday Times.
The best move of Richard Hytner’s career was stepping down as chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, the advertising giant. “I was rarely happy making the big, ugly decisions, yet really happy influencing the cause,” he writes in the book Consiglieri: Leading From the Shadows. “So I decided to become a deputy instead of an all-singing, all-dancing, all-deciding chief executive. Being second became my first choice.
“I want to open people’s eyes to the skills, the art, the craft of leading from behind the curtain,” said Hytner. “I now see the change as a big step forward in my life, not a step back. It brought a new range of opportunities to me. I was able to think more, shape outcomes more and help more people.”
While the best deputies are more interested in achieving their goals than in public praise for doing so, they are still focused on their goals, said Hytner. And being a deputy need not mean they have to subordinate their vision to someone else’s. “Some [deputies] have real vision, real ambition for an organisation. Sometimes they are strong-willed enough to make things happen, and they use their leaders to make things happen.”
Nicky Little, head of consulting at Cirrus, a leadership development company, said that being a deputy gave her distance from the spotlight in which those at the top of a hierarchy operate. “There are certain expectations of a chief executive — that he or she will behave in a certain way,” she said, adding that a deputy role also provides development opportunities. “When you know that you are working with someone you can learn from, you can shape and develop your leadership in an environment where you are not as exposed as you are in the top spot.”
The best way for individuals to work out whether they are best suited to being a deputy or the final decision-maker is to give both a try, said Hytner. “If you are pretty sure you want to remain where you are but you want to try a top role to be sure, ask for [one] in a project where you have final responsibility for six months, for example, and see how it fits.” At the very least it will provide greater insight into the challenges faced by leaders.
© The Sunday Times 2014
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