Raising the level of your leadership




Playing Second Fiddle


In his first-rate book, Getting Naked, Patrick Lencioni says, “There is nothing more attractive and admirable than people who willingly and cheerfully set their egos aside and make the needs of others more important than their own.”

In The Message, Eugene Peterson says that at times, leaders need to “practice playing second fiddle….” If you are the “first fiddle” leader, everyone already knows it; you don’t need to hog the spotlight to make sure they know.

One episode of my leadership I’m not too proud of occurred when an important general was going to visit our facility in Nashville to review our progress on a defense project. The visit was arranged by our COO who knew the general personally. As the CEO, I expected to have a role in the program, probably introducing the general to our employees. Guess what? The big day arrived, the platform was set up, hundreds of employees gathered, and my role was…nothing. I wasn’t even part of the plant tour. The COO took care of everything. He introduced the general; he escorted the general on the plant tour; he briefed the general on our project status. Guess what else? The general was pleased and impressed. It was hard for me to accept that it went so well without me. I sulked for days with hurt feelings. I didn’t play second fiddle very well.

One of a leader’s foremost responsibilities is to develop other leaders. There are several reasons you should stay off the platform at times:

  • First, by stepping aside, you are sending a message that you appreciate and have confidence in the other leaders on your team. It will be a great encouragement to them.
  • Second, how will you know if they can handle the heat of the spotlight if you never let it shine on them? You need to know how they will do when they are in the lead position.
  • Third, by staying off the stage, you are letting it be known that it is their show and they deserve the credit and applause.

I didn’t need to be on the platform when the general visited it. It wasn’t my show. As hard as it was for me, I needed to play second fiddle that day. How about you? How long has it been since you “set your ego aside” and played second fiddle?

[If this post was interesting and useful to you, please forward it to a friend. Thanks.]

© Copyright 2012 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company

6 responses to “Playing Second Fiddle”

  1. Adam says:

    Another great leadership nugget and a timely reminder. Thanks.

  2. Maurice says:

    Enjoyed the post, Dick. Brought back a good memory of being put on the spot without notice by an early career CFO boss in a meeting with the chairman/president. Hesitation I have observed with client CEOs resulted from inadequate development of direct reports. You knew your COO was ready to shine. A great reflection of you!

  3. John Murphey says:

    COO says. You were always the orchestra leader that made all of us sound and look better than we were.

    • Dick Wells says:

      Thanks, John, but you have it backwards. You were a first fiddle leader who didn’t need much “orchestrating” at all. We had a great team, fun to work with and productive. You guys made me look good.

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