ceo goblog # 8 – The NEED for A guide to being a good deputy and a good vice

It must be difficult being number two or being in the second liner in any organization. You are there waiting at the wing ready to be the CEO and boss and yet here you are,  having to play second fiddle in the running of the organization.  You have the MBA and qualification, you think you have the political support, the talent but the boss still has the last say and call the shot.

In the 22 years  of Mahathir Mohamad as Prime minister of Malaysia there were 3 casualties and only the patient and non threathening Abdullah Badawi  survived to take over the position. In Australa,  Howard and his deputy have numerous spats reported over the issues of succession.

The Corporate practices may not be as ruthless as in Political Organizations but nevertheless the requirement and clearly defined roles of good deputies and vices are not to be underestimated. The body of deputies and vices, is meant to be dynamic, robust, warrior like.

I actually like the term  council of warriors or the circle of knights  serving a holistic army or command with very clearly defined missions. It is the responsibility of the CEO to develop this council of warriors, a pool of talents, leaders and entrepreuners as an essential business strategy and as  part of the succession plan. Deputies must not be duplicate of the CEOs. CEOs must be able to hire talents better than him. Ceos must also be able to identify career deputies, those are management proffessionals who do not wish to take the exposure and risks of being CEOs.

As in politics many company deputies make the mistake to misread the power entrusted as the recognition of being equal, opinions sought as an absolute dispense of dicision, that democracy is the way of running a business, and companies can be managed by committes and think that he or she is Little Napoleon or even Napoleon.

At the other end of the scale, there are organizations where deputies are trophies, to deputise and serve ceremonial functions only. That is a shame, a sham.

One theory says that leaders are full of insecurities. It may be true for hereditary sultans and emperors and political despots, but for CEOs it is the unity of command that is of paramount important. A ship cannot have more than one captain. The flottilla  is to be commanded by the flotilla  commander. Insecurities is the least in the attributes list of  CEOs.

It was refreshing for me to have met the deputy chief of an Air Force. He was commanded to take the place of the Chief for a foreign visit with very short notice with a specific mission. When I enquire about about his plans and tasks  he said “what ever I do I do for my chief, once he commands I obey, my inputs and the discourses are relevant prior to command and during mission reviews”.

THe training for unity of command in the military has been astonishing. I initially find it hard to accept that in a situation where soldiers are of the same rank, the one with the most senior military number takes command. Some may say that commercial organizations are not the military. Yes, it is not a democratic political party either. The Buck stops at the CEO, period.

In a grouping of companies the importance of unity of command is even more visibly wanting. In a a culture that encourages diversity, it is a paradox to some that the organization is  unilateral in command. No it is not a paradox. Participations, rooms for discourses, limits of authority should be well defined and understood.

There are very little that the President or Group CEO has direct interests. His interests are mostly structural, directional and strategic. It is important for the deputies and vices to recognize core matters that are fundamental to the CEOs. It is also essential to recognize the spaces allotted for discourses opinions, data gatherings which is separate from  time for analysis,reviews and  finally a separate timing for decision making,

Once a decision is made and command issued, the CEOs are dependent on the deputies and vices to execute in unity. Dissent, sabotage, halfhearted participation, recalcitrant behaviours are not the traits of good deputies and vices. Neither would a political organization able to tolerate such.

A more complex situation may arise in an organizations where deputies and vices are shareholders or founders of the company. CEOs may be shareholders but as CEO he is a servant of the company, IT is important for everyone to understand that the power of shareholders is only to be exercised once a year during AGM or EGM. At other times the heirachy of command is the order of the day.

I wish I could find a book on this subject ‘How to be an effective deputy”


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