In leadership literature, the “second chair” is a euphemism to describe a leader’s right hand man or assistant. What’s the best way to serve your leader from the second chair? One word: anticipation.
The second chair best serves his leader when he doesn’t simply react to what his leader wants but anticipates what his leader actually needs.
There are four levels of anticipation that a second chair can work on to sharpen his service for a leader. The key to progress through these stages is to move from reaction to anticipation and from mediocrity to excellence. The four levels of anticipation, from lowest to highest, follow:
- Information – The second chair serves his leader by filtering information. Assistants can serve a leader by being another set of eyes and ears for him about what is going on in an organization and the surrounding culture. The second chair keeps critical information accessible and inconsequential information absent. This is level 1 on the assistance ladder because it is often reactionary and mediocre. Information can help solve problems.
- Improvement – The second chair serves his leader by finding improvements for him. Assistants can serve a leader by analyzing workflow and discovering incremental ways to sharpen it. The second chair provides a fresh perspective on processes that helps to cut unnecessary steps and improve critical ones. This is level 2 of the assistance ladder because it is often reactionary but excellent. Improvement can help streamline processes.
- Implementation – The second chair serves his leader by implementing new programs. Assistants can serve a leader by expanding his capacity to capture emerging opportunities. The second chair extends the scope of the leader’s effectiveness by recognizing what programs the leader does not have the capacity to execute himself and following his direction to implement them. This is level 3 of the assistance ladder because it is often anticipatory but mediocre. Implementation can help start projects.
- Innovation – The second chair serves his leader by creating innovation. Assistants can serve a leader by anticipating opportunities and producing innovations to address them. The second chair serves the leader in this way because he doesn’t just give the leader a problem to solve; he gives him a solution to consider. This is level four of the assistance ladder because it is often anticipatory and excellent. Innovation can help ship products.
The key to effective service from the second chair is anticipation: seeing needs and meeting them so your leader doesn’t have to. As assistants progress from information to improvement to implementation to innovation, they will continue to sharpen their ability to make their leader more effective.