September 25, 2014

Richard Hytner, deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, is making headlines with his book “Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows.” In it, Hytner reminds us that leadership comes from many places, not just the CEO, and he chronicles stories of outstanding leaders who are flourishing in the No. 2 spot. From vice-presidents to first lieutenants to executive assistants, these second-in-commands provide influence and counsel that can determine the fate for careers, companies and countries.  Hytner himself chose to step away from a CEO position and into a less-prominent but equally significant leadership role. He says:

“There is much joy to be had from behind the scenes, off the stage, and out of the limelight… I want to de-stigmatize this No. 2 role from being considered an also ran, loser, couldn’t-hack-it-as-number-1. In truth, many, many people occupy these roles behind the scenes really, really happily. [They] are absolutely essential to the leadership endeavor and they deserve to be celebrated.”

Hytner’s message is compelling in the context of candor in two key ways: first, on creating more clarity around these distinct positions of leadership. He’s highlighting for us how valuable these background roles in leadership actually are. He’s helping aspiring leaders understand the worth of this #2 role and encourages them to know that striving for it is an honorable goal. And, he’s helping bosses learn how to manage people in this often-overlooked yet vital leadership capacity.

Secondly, Hytner’s own example is reminding us to be truthful with ourselves about what type of leadership role is best for each of us. Given the context of who we are and how the rest of our life is unfolding, we need to be honest about whether or not achieving CEO status is the right leadership goal. Perhaps a different version of leadership is the greater achievement.

In related news this week, Mohamed El-Erian’s column in Worth magazine is the talk of  parents and business people alike. He quit his job as CEO of PIMCO, an investment fund, after his 10-year-old daughter confronted him with a letter listing the 22 different milestones in her life he had missed. While he is in a unique financial situation to make this choice to step back from the huge #1  job, it does show great candor in deciding what matters most for him right now.