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What is wrong with being number two?

Business

It had been a difficult day already when Larry walked in with a long face and an even longer story. Larry was 38 and a talented Fortune 1000 executive, and the CEO of his company had promised that when the time was right he would make him the next company president.

Larry had been instrumental in major cultural changes at the company, changes that catapulted the company to an accelerated level of growth and profits. In the process Larry had made lots of friends but also lots of enemies. Because his division had performed extraordinarily well, and because he was charismatic and dynamic, there were many who thought his promotion would be just what the company needed.

You see, Larry was a Christian, and his values were antithetical to the previous leader. But Larry’s problem was that a new president had been named—and it wasn’t him. The CEO pretended he never had made the promise to Larry at all, and he wanted Larry to be the number two man and wait for another day.

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I asked Larry, “What’s wrong with the number two position?”

He replied, “It is not what I had my heart set on. It’s not my dream. I feel I have been lied to, and how can I work for a liar?”

“Larry,” I asked, “can you have influence and influence the culture at the company as the number two?”

“Yes! Immensely!” he responded. “But that’s not the point!”

I never got Larry off the hurt he felt, perceiving that the CEO lied to him. Larry eventually left that company to a successful career elsewhere. But Larry’s dilemma occurs often in business, education, church, non-profits—all organizations: What’s wrong with being in the number two position?

Moses had Joshua, David had Jonathan, Elijah had Elisha, Jesus had Peter, Paul began as number two to Barnabas and later became the lead. The number two position can be and often is the most critical, the most rewarding, the most unsung, and the most needed position in an organization.

Many CEOs are idea people, with few of the implementation skills necessary to take an idea from gestation to completion. A good number two complements the CEO and adds skills and abilities that are needed within an organization. Sure, there is usually little glory associated with the number two spot, but there can be a great deal of satisfaction.

Many senior pastors could be better at preaching, but much of their sermon prep time is eaten up with administrative or management tasks for which they are ill-suited. An executive pastor or chief of staff willing to be a submissive number two often can carry the needed load and make the difference between a mediocre ministry and a dynamic one. Paul says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts,” and none of the parts are the same, but they complement each other. That is what a good number two does!

Many organizations including churches could use faithful, submissive, and humble number twos. Don’t be a Larry and miss an opportunity because of pride or damaged ego.

Bill Newton
Bill Newton

Bill is a pastor based in Asheville, N.C. He also serves as a member of God World Publications' board of directors.

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