Why Leaders Need a Second-In-Command
Written by Jocko Willink
December 30, 2021
You’re working 70, 80, or even 90 hours a week. You’re stressed. Frazzled. Overwhelmed. Things that should be quick take longer than they ought to. You're drowning in minutiae rather than leading strategically. And perhaps worst of all, you're not exactly a joy to be around.
If this sounds familiar, it’s time to take a step back and check out the answer that’s been right in front of you all this time.
The solution? As a leader in the dirt world, you need a second-in-command.
Why leaders need a second-in-command.
All effective leaders have a second-in-command — someone they trust that they can call their “Number Two" — because the bottom line is that, as a leader, you simply can’t do everything.
In fact, doing everything shouldn’t even be one of your objectives.
“If you want to really be in charge of everything, what you should strive to do is be in charge of nothing,” Willink said. “Because when you're in charge of something, you're focused on that one thing, and then you're not looking up and out. That focus on the one thing means you’re not really in charge of everything.”
To be effective, leaders need to keep their eye on the big picture. And this is something that’s challenging to do when you’ve got your focus on all the smaller things in front of you. “If you’re in charge of one little thing, you’re in charge of that one project,” Willink explained. “That’s where your focus is going to be.”
Let’s say you have 12 projects on the go. Don’t put yourself in charge of any of them. Instead, delegate the individual projects to your second-in-command, so you can keep your focus where it belongs, on the overall picture. By keeping your eye on the big picture, you’ll be more able to lead your company toward achieving the objectives that will form the foundation of your business’s success.
Decentralized command is key to effective leadership.
It can be difficult to let go of your smaller responsibilities. After all, this is your company, and you know best how you want things to be run. But delegation is important because it allows you to formulate more decentralized command. And decentralized command within an organization is a good thing. As Willink pointed out, decentralized command lets you be in charge of everything by being in charge of nothing.
When you look at the leaders of successful companies, you’ll see they’re good at decentralizing their command. These are leaders who are more relaxed and more strategic because they have someone they trust whose role is complementary to their own. They’re not pushing 12 hour days and 90 hour weeks, with no weekends in sight.
Finding your Number Two.
You may be thinking that this whole delegation thing sounds great in theory, but practically speaking, won’t it be difficult to find someone you can trust to be your second-in-command?
It may seem like a challenge, but in reality it’s not.
You can, of course, always go outside your company for someone who has the capabilities you need. Or you can look inside your organization — because in all likelihood, your second-in-command is already right in front of you.
“Let’s say you’ve got a hundred people in your company,” Willink said. “So you’ve probably got between seven and 10 direct reports. Out of those direct reports, you’re going to have at least one person who will be ready to step up. But you don’t have to figure it out right away. You’re overwhelmed, you can’t do everything yourself. So start handing them responsibilities.”
You also don’t have to promote anyone right off the bat. “You go to Fred, and you say, hey, Fred, I want you to run this,” Willink said. “You say to Jessica, I want you to do that. And Bill, you’re going to tackle this other thing. You give them tasks, and you see who steps up. Who can take these things off your plate? And that’s how you find your Number Two.”
The process is easy, because it doesn’t require you to trust someone right away. You start off with little things, and you spread them out among your direct reports. This lets you see who steps up, who does the job well, who’s trustworthy. Start by delegating a little at a time, then gradually build up to tasks with more responsibility. Once someone earns your trust, your choice will be easy.
It’s your company, and you know best how to run it. But trying to successfully run your company by being in charge of everything is not only stressful, it’s often ineffective. As Willink points out, in order to be in charge of everything, you should be in charge of nothing.
You need a second-in-command, so that you can decentralize your command through delegation. But how do you go about choosing who will be your Number Two?
- Start with little things, and gradually build up to delegating bigger responsibilities.
- Some of them will step up to the plate. They’ll perform, and perform well.
- Take things slow. Remember, it takes time to earn your trust.
Once you have a clear winner, someone who shows you their trustworthiness, you will have found the right person to be your second-in-command. And by delegating more responsibility to them, you’ll be able to keep your focus where you need it, on the big picture.
Written by Jocko Willink
December 30, 2021