I always advise young leaders, if they can, to sit under a seasoned leader for a while, learning all they can, before they venture out on their own.
Of course, that’s not always the advice a young, ready-to-go leader type wants to hear. I get it, since I was one of those younger leaders. And we learn mostly by failure, so there is something to be said for jumping out on your own, “getting both feet wet”, and starting something new.
Once I was visiting with a group of leadership students talking about this issue. Most were studying for ministerial positions within the church. They had been studying the concept of first chair and second chair leadership, so this prompted a good, obvious question.
How do you attract (and keep) “first chair” type leaders into a “second chair” position?
(If needed for clarity, the first chair leader usually has a title such as C.E.O., President, Senior Pastor. Second chair leaders have a title such as C.O.O., Vice President, Associate Pastor.)
The group followed that question with another equally good question.
They asked if I felt I could ever again be a second chair leader. At this point, they knew my history. I’d been a first chair leader for well over 20 years.
My answer to the second question first. Yes. I could be a second chair leader. My answer to the second question is the point of this post.
Here are 7 ways to attract (and keep) first chair leaders in a second chair position:
Remove the lids
The real reason most people resist the second chair is they don’t want to be limited in how much they can achieve. Good first chair leaders are willing to get out of the way and let people around them lead. And that’s even if the second chair person’s success gains more notoriety than the first chair.
Empower individual dreams
If a second chair person feels the freedom to dream big dreams – even individual dreams – they’ll be fueled to continue in the role. They may have to be empowered to work on dreams which are even outside the vision of their current organization. Of course, they still need to meet all the requirements of a good second chair leader, so there should be loyalty to the place where they are currently serving in the second chair.
Let the leader build a team
Second chair leaders, who are qualified to be first chair leaders, need to have the freedom to build their own teams. They should be able to recruit and lead their own people.
Of course, an overall vision must be maintained and ultimately the vision holder is the first chair leader. But if the second chair leader is on board with the vision – give them room to build and lead their team.
Invite their input into larger decisions
This is huge. Second chair leaders who could be first chair leaders want to play a part in the overall strategy and implementation of the organization. They have ideas, energy and want to make a difference. If you want to keep them you have to give them a seat at the lead table.
Give them a voice
This goes with the last one, but not only should they have a seat at the table, their input should matter. Their opinion must make a difference in the overall direction of the organization. The weight of their suggestions must be valuable in making final decisions. Hyper-controlling leaders will have a very hard time with this one, but it’s critical to retaining the best “first chair minded” – second chair leaders.
This one probably goes without saying, but many senior leaders I know need to hear it again. The best first chair leaders don’t micromanage anyone. This is especially true if you want to attract the first chair leader types into the second chair. Again, they should be working for the same overall vision of the entire organization, but if you want to keep them, get out of their way and let them do their work.
Don’t hog the credit for all the wins. Celebrate and let them be celebrated by others.
Let me be clear, as I tried to be with the leadership students, there are exceptional second chair leaders who never desire to be first chair leaders. I’ll be transparent enough to say without some of them I am very ineffective as a first chair leader. You don’t want me in the first chair unless I have some good second chair people around me.
If you want to attract and keep first chair leaders in a second chair position – I hope this post helps.