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The Importance of Having a #2

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Are you feeling stagnant in your career? Are the "next level" opportunities looking more and more out of reach each day? Are you unsure what you can even do to position yourself for an opportunity if and when it arises? Here's a crash course in what's need to progress your career:

  1. Be sure to do your current job SUPER well and work to build your reputation as such.

  2. Train someone else on how to do your current job better than you.

  3. Learn the knowledge, skills and abilities to succeed at the next level. Maybe become someone else's NUMBER 2.

  4. Work to create a need for those knowledge, skills and abilities at the next level and fill the gap in the minds of leadership long before any "official posting/opening" goes out.

All four of these things need to happen to advance your career. Miss one, and you're hard pressed on moving on. Today, I’m focusing on the second one: the importance of having a number 2 and how NOT having a number 2 is detrimental to your career growth.

I had a manager that helped me build the knowledge, skills and abilities that allowed me to succeed at my current and next level positions. She built up my self-confidence and reputation. If we were working on a project or initiative where I only did 40% of the work, she would make it feel in public settings that was much closer to doing 90% of the work. I was her number 2. I distinctly remember being in meetings with my peers and getting more praise than I felt I deserved. In return, I just wanted to work harder to make sure everything we did was successful. My manager was laying the groundwork for others to have confidence in me, while developing my own self-confidence and at the same time allowing her to become one step closer to her next career move. She was deliberately building up her number 2, and I was fortunate enough that it was me.

I'm sure my thought process on the importance of having a number 2 stems back to the military. You're taught in the military to train the people behind you and learn the job in front of you. Military posts or bases have continual turnover of personnel and require a culture of continual development. During my military time I found that not many things can advance your career or free up your time to pursue next level career opportunities like a strong number 2 can. Your goal when developing a number 2 should be to help them grow into someone you would want to work for one day. They should be someone you've empowered to make decisions in your absence and who's looked at as having the authority to do such. Some of it is delegating to build up other people or simply letting them know you believe in them as I've stated in previous articles, but your return on investment is huge! A solid number 2 will NOT let you fail, they want you to succeed and progress in your career.

Some of you may be thinking "this seems so logical and mutually beneficial, why don't more people do this"? One word, fear. Maybe you can't see a next level position within your grasp so you feel if you work yourself out of a job then all you've really accomplished is to prove you're expendable. Maybe your pool of potential number 2's is not as great as you would like it be. Or, even worse, you don't see the benefit of a number 2 and you would rather go it alone because you work better alone and you fear giving up any level of autonomy. These are all legitimate fears and you could probably use some mentorship to help delineate the real fears from the boogie man. You need a mentor who can point you to next level opportunities or can help identify a solid number 2 that you didn't consider, or that can talk you off the ledge of selfishness and explain the career benefits of depending on and working with other people.

I don't know anyone who has succeeded going alone. I'm not saying it's impossible, it's just a doesn't add up to me on what it takes to lead your career. Not having a number 2 is detrimental to your career growth. You lose out on the ability to coach and mentor, get an outside perspective on your approach to work, and you leave the success of everything you work on hinging on your ability to get it done on time. If you lone-wolf-it long enough I would question your ability to lead which is usually essential at the next level. That seems like a lonely career existence, and not one I would care to, nor recommend that you partake in.

I ask two things of you this week:

  1. Identify your number 2! Who in your group has shown a desire to step up and take on opportunities? We all have the potential to do it, but who is already showing interest? There is a solid number 2 out there for everyone at any point in their career, you just need to take the time to find them and in some cases, start building them up one step at a time.

  2. Be someone's number 2! Most internal career promotion opportunities are not based on if you could theoretically do the job, but rather what have you been doing in the meantime prove you can do it from day one. The best way to do that is to already be doing the job. The only way to really do that is to be someone's number 2. Someone that will help offer you opportunities to build up your knowledge, skills and abilities while in return you help them to be as successful as possible.

Having a solid number 2 in itself does not make you ready to move on, it makes THEM ready to step up. You still need to focus on developing your knowledge, skills and abilities required for the next level. And again the best way to do that is to become someone's number 2, and prove you have what it takes!

Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer.

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