Managers, here's why you should have a strong number 2

Having a strong number 2 - the mobile spoon

I was watching Argentina in the world cup today, and heard the commentators talk about the key role of Ángel Di María as Messi's number 2. It reminded me of the importance of having a strong "deputy" in the team, for any manager out there. 

I often talk about it when I coach young managers and entrepreneurs. Everyone knows how important it is to hire A-players but most managers don't fully understand the amazing benefits of having a key team member acting as a number 2.  

Think about Michael Jordan without Scottie Pippen

My best performing years as a manager were when I had a top-performing “number 2”.  My typical number 2’s had stronger technical skills than I did, and used to take over the backend/infrastructure stuff, allowing me to focus on the business/product/front end. They were not always the most experienced individuals on the team, but they were the best, and always earned their authority and respect due to their extraordinary professionalism and work ethics.

Your number 2 must be better than you in enough areas to complete you. They should be able to handle multiple tasks in a high-pressure environment and must be 100% behind you, as the leader of the team, and fully aligned with the mission and team culture. 

Advantages of having a strong number 2 in your team

1. A strong number 2 strengthens your professional & leadership skills

Different team member brings different skills into the mix, but with a strong number 2 that acts as your sidekick - those skills blend with YOUR leadership skills. 

Together, you form a stronger leadership "entity" that usually outperforms the things you could do as a single manager. 

2. When things get tough - you have a go-to person 

As you grow as a leader/manager, you run into different challenges - more than you could handle on your own. Not everything can be delegated to the team members, but that's exactly where your number 2 gets into the picture. 

Jordan could always pass the ball to Pippen, knowing he will not mess up. 

You need someone you can trust blindly, at any given day and time, no matter how bad things get. 

Having a number 2 in these situations is a game-changer. 

This person needs to be strong enough to handle various and often unfamiliar challenges simultaneously - just like you do. This person also needs to be cool with this kind of work, where things are often urgent and not always planned. Oh, and most importantly, this person needs to be aware of this unique status in the team, I'll talk more about it later. 

3. Set the tone in your team's culture 

As your team grows, it gets harder to maintain the same culture; new team members often change the team dynamics, sometimes not for the better. 

I’m sure many managers recognize this, as they witness the culture they shaped, slowly vanish and change. It happens to development teams, product teams, and can also happen at executive levels. 


When you and your number 2 share the same work style and act as role models - you create a critical mass that is very hard to outweigh. It's like having both parents fully aligned, setting the tone for the rest of the family. 

When the manager and his talented deputy lead the way, rest assured the rest of the team will follow.  

4. Have a potential successor

It's OK to think ahead and get prepared for your next role. When the time comes, your number 2 will be a great candidate to take over and lead the team. 

Finding the right number 2

Your number 2 must be someone you trust 100% and feel comfortable with, just like a friend, so don't rush into it and take your time to carefully pick the right person for the job. 

They must have strong professional and interpersonal skills, because they will need to lead and manage many threads, and authority counts.  

You and your number 2 will have to maintain an unwritten contract, where they work harder, take more responsibility and in return - enjoy a unique status in the team. 

They need to be willing to take on this role which is very demanding and not always rewarding. The people I used to work with as my number 2's had this rare ego-less character, and they felt comfortable with their position as number 2 and not number 1.

In business, like in sports - hierarchy is essential, and so is transparency. Other team members will need to understand the "unwritten" hierarchy and be OK with it. 

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Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
Anonymous said…
Some would argue that the examples you gave were more than number 2... it's a technical lead maybe?