Creative Leadership

Leadership: The Importance of Being #2

We live in a world obsessed by “leadership” development. I’m all for it, although I’m somewhat dismayed at the sheer number of leadership books, seminars, blogs, conferences, and more. What I’d actually like to see would be more training in how to be a great #2 person. I’ve been thinking about that since the passing of Cliff Barrows, the virtual #2 man behind the Billy Graham organization for so many years.  Many knew him as the crusade music director, but throughout his career, he was so much more.

I only met Cliff a couple of times casually, although it was his job to approve a TV special we produced for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association many years ago. Word was, it was a little too cutting edge (meaning: weird) for him, so he almost shut down the project. But by the grace of God, after his wife was moved to tears after accidentally screening the project, she stepped in to save it. When it was finally broadcast, The Los Angeles Times reported it was the most watched Billy Graham TV special program in history.

And I’ll never forget it was his willingness to trust his wife that led to that program being broadcast.

The remarkable thing about Cliff was his eagerness to do anything and everything for the sake of Billy’s vision. Notice I said “Billy’s vision.” Being number two means that your dream may be set aside to make #1’s vision happen. But with a great team, #2 sees the potential of the long play.

I had the opportunity to see a great #2 in action in Bob DeWeese, Associate Evangelist for Oral Roberts. Back in the day, it was never about Bob. He was happy to work behind the scenes making things happen for the bigger vision.

In nearly every great church, nonprofit, ministry, or business, there’s a vital #2 person working, and without them, those organizations would struggle. Having seen a number of them in action throughout my career, here’s a few characteristics that make a #2 person so critical:

1) They’re able to subdue their ego, dreams, and plans for a great #1. Sure they have their own ideas and vision, but they understand the importance of working toward a larger goal.

2) There is an extraordinary level of trust between a great #1 and a great #2. With the best teams, there isn’t jealousy, grudges, or ego battles, they know how to work in harmony, and it comes from a deep-seated trust.

3) The #2 person is willing to take the day to day hits, so that #1 can focus on the bigger picture. A senior pastor, CEO, or other top leader is there because he or she has a big vision and goal. If they spend all day dealing with routine, day to day issues, that vision will never be fulfilled.

4) The #2 is often more practical than #1. You’ll find that #2 people are usually more detail oriented and organized.

5) Finally, great #1 and #2 teams always share the victory. The fastest way to create division is to force a #2 to do the hard “grunt” work during difficult times, and then when the victory happens, #1 takes all the credit. It’s a team effort, and great #1’s are the first to admit it.

If you’re the top person, value your #2. And if you don’t have one, make finding one a priority.

And if you’re the #2 in your organization, know this – you’re the foundation that allows #1 to soar. Without your regular, day to day leadership, your organization would never be able to fulfill the vision.

Have you had the experience of seeing a great #1 and #2 work together? I’d love to hear about it.

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  1. Phil. So true. Leadership is important, but so much of the literature and training act as if everyone can be “the” leader. The reality is that most leaders will never be “the” leader by virtue of simple math, but they can still have a huge impact.

    What frustrates me is when the books, blogs and seminars contrast “leader” (good) with “manager” (bad). I think that is a poor choice. I would rather contrast “leader” with “boss.” Every organization needs leaders at the mid and lower levels (aka, “managers”) to lead well where they are! And these managers will do better when they stop trying to be the “boss” and rather start “leading.” In fact, I’ve written about this because I think it’s an important distinction.

  2. Thank you Phil for this affirmation! Having spent a lifetime working as someone’s secretary, admin assistant, etc., I’ve experienced the joy of seeing many bosses excel in their position. The good ones, the ones that you’d lay down your life for, are the ones who freely give you the credit for your part in their success. Strangely, it seems the people I’ve contributed the most to are the ones most likely to minimize the input of others and take all the glory for themselves.

    1. Sadly, I think a lot of people would agree with your experience that: “The people I’ve contributed the most to are the ones most likely to minimize the input of others and take all the glory for themselves.” Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. I always felt I was king maker and not the king. Would often ask God why He seems to have skipped me!
    #2 ‘s can get so discouraged if they and their silent behind-the-scenes work is not affirmed. They don’ t need much, but they do need it. That’s what keeps them going. They are usually satisfied to be what they are and do what they do. They will continue to be who and what, but will feel forlorn without appreciation. Even a little of it is enough to fill their tank and keep them going. An understanding smile, an arm around the shoulder, a pat on the back, a smiley, a firm handshake etc., can mean so much. They truly are the salt of the earth.
    Do the #1s ever realize that? I wonder!!!

  4. Almost every #1 has been at least once a #2, before becoming #1. Like Joshua with Moses, Elisha with Elijah and so on.
    “If you are not faithful with other people’s things [or vision], why should you be trusted with things of your own [or your vision]?” (Luke 16:12, NLT).

    The real issue is not which number we are in the row. In our day we wrongly equal success with being on top, famous and rich. But success is getting this prize: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
    It’s NOT a matter of GETTING the “much”, but BEING FAITHFUL over the “little” or the “much” that is given to us.

    John the Baptist was not on top, he lived a difficult life, was persecuted and died young. But received this evaluation: “No one among those born of women is greater than John”. He was faithful preparing the platform for the One. He understood his place and did it with joy: “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

    Most of the weddings are not ours and we will not be the bridegroom, but let us be the best best men we can be!

  5. um yeah …great article Phil, I’m a #2 for sure, love it and like you said details are our thing so … … sorry but you’ve got a typo in your #2 point 😉 “level of trust been a great #1” should probably read “trust between a great #1” …still it really is a great article though.

    *You don’t have to publish this comment just giving you a heads up..

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