Support Your CEO

executivesA recent book called Leadership Is Half the Story (by Marc Hurwitz and Samantha Hurwitz) has been making the rounds. The basic tenet of the book is that if one is not the leader they can still be very influential in a supporting role, sort of like the power behind the throne.

The standard company model may be that if one is not the chief honcho they should go elsewhere to do their thing. Well, to start with there are only so many CEO jobs to go around and most people can get more done by playing a critical support role. This is not to be mistaken as a blind follower or yes man who just doesn’t want to make waves and carries out whatever the boss says, rather this is a skillful team member, often the number two person in the organization. They are confident self-starters who through careful maneuvering can bring out the best in their boss without making that person look indecisive or inept.


We have worked this process in the past with generally good results. It starts with what I call mutual discovery, whereby one does not bring a fully formed solution to the CEO and ask them to approve it, which is ham handed and often seen as a threat to the CEO’s usually substantial ego and/or intelligence. A better approach is to deliver a set of facts and alternative actions that, when analyzed in private with the boss, enable the CEO to change course without rubbing a possible poor decision in their face. The boss is still the decision-maker via this process of mutual discovery, without having to be told what to do. He or she is usually smart enough to understand the finesse demonstrated by their number two person, who becomes a trusted confidant.

Let me provide an example. The company is ready to do an acquisition into a new field. This has long been in the planning process and sold to the team. The only problem is that times have changed and what was a static environment is no longer, with a new technology that will very likely make that deal a very bad one. You as the number two person have just put all the pieces of the puzzle together which no one was fully aware of before, but the CEO has however gone out on a limb, sold the deal, obtained the financing and is ready to go ahead. However, instead of bursting forth with your discovery which might make you look smart at your boss’s expense, you roll out all of the newly discovered intelligence in private, cobbled together very carefully through a variety of sources and let him or her look like the hero in squelching a bad deal due to their new insight.

MORE: what will it take to make your company a contingent staffing leader?

Michael Neidle

Michael Neidle
Michael Neidle is president and CEO of Optimal Management, an advisor to staffing firm owners and managers.

Michael Neidle

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