UK: How To Succeed As A Second-In-Command

Last Updated: 19 December 2011

You've just been hired (or promoted) to be your CEO's second-in-command. Do you know what it takes to survive and thrive in this uniquely challenging position?

The two essential tasks of a second-in-command

Most people occupying the position of second-in-command make the mistake of thinking that all they have to do is run the company well. In reality, your success as a second-in-command – regardless of whether your title is president, COO or head of operations – depends on your ability to accomplish two essential tasks: managing the business and managing your relationship with your boss.

Unlike the CEO, a second-in-command has to manage both up and down, which makes it an extremely challenging position. Obviously, you have to handle the day-to-day operations of the company; that's inherent in your position. But as second-in-command you also have to assume responsibility for managing your relationship with the CEO, because you have more at stake. He can fire you but you cannot fire him.

Don't assume the CEO will automatically manage the relationship, because if he doesn't – and very few of them do – it could cost you your job, regardless of how well you run the company.

Managing the relationship

To manage your relationship with your CEO and maximise your chances for success as second-in-command, we recommend an eight-step process.

1. Know the CEO's vision for the company

Most CEOs have a pretty good idea of where they want to take their companies. Where they tend to fall short is in communicating that vision to those who would help them achieve it. Worse, they tend to think that their people know and buy into the vision, when most don't have a clue that it even exists. If your CEO fails to communicate the vision, make a point to seek it out. Ask questions such as:

  • What is your vision for the company?
  • Where do you see us five years from now?
  • What will the company's market position be?
  • How do you see us expanding geographically?

Once you understand the vision, then focus on the financial targets, such as sales, profits and gross margins. From there, try to uncover what your CEO considers to be the real issues at the departmental level. These will help you to streamline your own priorities.

2. Help your CEO to discover his role in that vision

Now that you're running the company, the CEO has to figure out his new role in the company, which represents the source of his personal satisfaction. To determine the CEO's role, it is necessary to identify one or two driving needs the company has that the CEO is uniquely qualified to fill.

Usually, this new role includes something the CEO could not do as long as he had full responsibility for day-to-day operations. Equally important, the CEO must feel comfortable in this new role and understand the value that he brings to the company. Otherwise, he will be continually tempted to revert back to what he knows best, thereby undermining your position.

3. Help your CEO to do the right things

As COO or head of operations, your job is to see that things get done right. In his new role, the CEO needs to make sure that the company does the right things. You can help the CEO to focus with broad directional questions such as:

  • Where is our market going?
  • Why is it going there?
  • How is technology impacting our industry?
  • What are our competitors doing?
  • What can we learn from them?
  • What can we learn from customers?
  • What do customers want us to do?
  • Why does the market need us? Will those reasons be the same in three to five years?
  • Based on our answers to these questions, what should we be doing as an organisation?

As second-in-command, you can help your relationship with the CEO by questioning what the company is currently doing and what it ought to be doing. This forces the CEO to ask and answer these questions, which brings his attention up to a whole new level.

The trick is to make sure your CEO focuses on his new role and gets comfortable working from this higher level. Only then will he truly let go of the day-to-day stuff.

4. Define your role as the CEO sees it with precision and clarity

Does your CEO want you to play the role of leader or manager? Mistaking one for the other is a sure recipe for disaster.

If the CEO wants you to serve as a leader, he'll expect you to help chart the company's course and direction. In this case, he wants an operating partner – someone who feels a certain sense of ownership. This sense of partnership may or may not include an equity position, but it must include an owner's mindset and attitude towards the company.

In contrast, many CEOs do not want a leader, instead preferring a key manager. Managers focus on implementing a vision and strategy that the CEO has already crafted. This is more of a directive relationship – the CEO tells the manager what he wants done and when.

Both roles are valid. The objective is simply to ensure that what (or who) you are aligns with what the CEO wants. If it does not, the resulting conflict is generally fatal for the executive.

Problems can occur when the CEO says one thing but actually wants another. For your own protection, take the time to work out what he really wants and don't rely on what he says he wants. How? By observing how much of a leadership role your CEO takes and how he responds to your attempts at leadership. If he energetically pursues the vision and strategy and doesn't invite you into the process, you know that the role of leader is taken.

In addition to finding and feeling comfortable in his new role, the CEO must also have confidence that his second-in-command is getting the job done. To put his mind at rest:

  • Have very clear operational goals and a written plan to achieve those goals.
  • Demonstrate effective delegation: who will accomplish what, by when, and how they will do it.
  • Identify key milestones so that your CEO can monitor progress against the goals and see what has been done – not what has not!

The key is to be proactive in demonstrating your ability to get the job done. If your CEO sees that his second-in-command has a plan and that the plan is working, the temptation to meddle in the kitchen will be dramatically reduced.

5. Know your individual management styles

If your management style differs from that of your boss, do not try to adopt his style when managing the organisation. It won't feel authentic to you or to your people. Although there are many published lists of management styles, we believe that the following list will help you to align with your CEO.

  • Sharing responsibility. Having both of you manage the company or specific departments rarely works well, since it confuses the troops, making them generally less successful. Additionally, people tend to accept responsibility when things go right and point the finger of blame when things go wrong.
  • Coaching. Coaching leader/managers work with their people to determine what they need to accomplish and how to accomplish it. In general, they support their efforts and provide the resources needed to achieve their goals.
  • Supervising. Supervising managers tend to monitor activities more than results. This is often very hands-on, and usually includes detailed progress reports.
  • Holding people accountable. A manager who holds people accountable gives them deadlines and then backs off until the deadline draws near. This style works if the manager explains the ground rules and the definition of success from the very beginning.
  • Abdicating. The abdicating manager says "go ahead and do it", but does not give any feedback later on. At first, people may appreciate the green light. But abdication almost never works, as "success" can be easily misunderstood or redefined.

Coaching, supervising and holding people accountable will get the best results with your people. However, don't assume that your boss can or should use your style with you. Always be prepared to shift gears when dealing with your boss and get in sync with his style.

6. Establish a formal method of communication

As a company grows, the communication systems change. Early on, the CEO will be forced to rely less on their gut and more on data. Later, as they put other executives (like you) into place, they get even more detached from their favourite source of information – the people in the company.

Never get so wrapped up in running the business that you fail to keep your CEO in tune with what's going on in the company. Remember that, like most people, when the CEO does not feel he knows what is going on, he will assume the worst.

Early on in the relationship, find a reporting format that works for your CEO and make it a formal part of your relationship. Some CEOs will want more detail, some will want less. Some prefer verbal reports, others like written reports to take home and review. The key is to find which method works best for your boss and give it to him.

Regardless of the format, this type of report yields two major benefits. First, it forces you to keep on top of the company's key performance objectives, and second, it closes many of the gaps that often occur in the communication loop.

For example, for the CEO who likes brief, written updates, we recommend the "five-fifteen" format, whereby at five o'clock every Friday afternoon you give a 15-minute report that summarises activity for the past week and looks ahead to the next. This one-page report should include:

  • status of the three or four major objectives from the previous week
  • status of the three or four major objectives for this week
  • a quick review of key indicators
  • the significant win of the week
  • the most critical issue for the coming week and what you plan to do about it.

Remember that before you came along, your boss had his hands around the whole company. Now, to a large extent, he has to depend on you to know what's going on. When your boss asks for regular updates, consider it a blessing, not meddling. Look at it as an opportunity to check in with each other and make sure you're operating on the same wavelength.

7. Get feedback on your performance

Some CEOs are good at giving feedback; with others it's like pulling teeth. At the same time, some bosses have a knack for focusing on people's positive contributions while others see nothing but the downsides. Either way, you need to know what your boss is thinking. Don't be surprised, however, if you have to prime the pump in order to get any feedback out of him.

If your boss doesn't volunteer feedback on your performance as second-in-command, demand it. You need the feedback to assure your success, and, whether he's happy or unhappy with your performance, he will appreciate the fact that you forced him to get it off his chest.

Also, keep in mind that your CEO will evaluate you according to his priorities, not yours. If you want to succeed as second-in-command, make your CEO's priorities your own.

8. Redefine the organisational structure

When a CEO hires a second-in-command, the reporting lines in the organisation usually change dramatically. Therefore, a new organisational chart, which is really a communication diagram, needs to be published.

When redefining the organisational chart, make sure reporting structures are clear and specific. More important, make sure everyone in the organisation understands the changes. The quickest way to undermine your position and authority is to have people continually running to the CEO when they should bring problems and concerns to you.

Thriving as second-in-command

To enhance your ability to survive and thrive as a second-in-command, keep the following in mind:

  • Define company objectives and manage according to those objectives.
  • Identify the CEO's new role, highlight his contribution within the whole company, and assist him in his new role.
  • Keep the CEO informed. Bad news is OK as long as it doesn't come as a surprise.
  • Insist on holding to your meeting/communication schedules. Unless you communicate on a regular basis, you will both be working off assumptions.
  • Stretch your authority. If you're not sure whether it's your call or the CEO's, assume by default that it's yours.
  • Put yourself in your CEO's shoes from time to time. This will allow you to be a step ahead of – or at least in sync with – your boss.
  • Accomplish the business objectives you have set. This will demonstrate your ability to produce results and improve your chances of survival when tough times hit and everyone is scrambling.

Above all, pay attention to the CEO and manage the relationship. Don't allow yourself to so get buried in the nuts and bolts that you forget who you're working for.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

 
In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.