Monday, July 14, 2008

What's So Bad About Being No. 2?

As Barack Obama and John McCain try and decide who should be their vice-presidential running mate, let's take a look at what's so great about being No. 2.

OK. Hmmmm...

1. You're not No. 3.
2. You usually get a good parking spot.
3. See reason No. 1.

All right, all kidding aside, is it really so bad to be No. 2? Well, it can be kind of tough to proclaim that you're really proud to be second-in-command in this country. After all, aren't we programmed from an early age that we want to be -- no, must be -- No. 1?

Our children must go to the top preschool, elementary school, high school, college, etc. No one, after all, holds up those foam fingers at football games that proclaim "We're No. 2!" Companies proclaim they have the No. 1 laundry detergent and we must be the No. 1 sales team before we get our bonus from the boss.

But what if your life's aspiration is to be No. 2? Does that make you a loser?

Hardly.

The No. 2 can wield enormous power. Just look at Dick Cheney. (OK, on second thought, let's not.)

Let's instead look at all the reasons that being No. 2 isn't such a bad gig:
1. It's action-packed. While No. 1 gets to make the final decision, it's the second-in-command who puts it into play. If you like facing challenges, being the go-to person, this may be a job you love.
2. You can be a fly-on-the-wall. People pay a lot of attention to No. 1, and may carefully watch what they say or do around him or her. But the No. 2 can often sit back, observe and learn. Seeing people in their unguarded moments can be a fascinating adventure.
3. You learn from No. 1's mistakes. It's called second-mover advantage by game theorists: No. 2's gain an edge simply by observing what the first mover has done.
4.You get to keep your head on your shoulders. When times are tough, people are looking for someone to blame. That usually is No. 1. And No. 1 usually is asked, or forced, to take a hike.
5. You get a great parking spot. Did I already mention that?

Of course, there are downsides to being No. 2. In a sort of "kick the dog" syndrome, the No. 1 can take out frustrations most often on the second-in-command. Or, it can get frustrating seeing No. 1 taking credit for your hard work. And, when you're No. 2 sometimes you have to do things you don't agree with, but you have to because your boss is -- you got it -- the boss of you.

But if you can get past some of the frustrations, some of the blows to your own ego, No. 2 these days may be the best position on the field. You can be exposed to important people and jobs, you can have a real impact on a company's direction and outlook and you probably won't take the hit if things go south. If you have problems saying you're not No. 1, just remember the words of Margaret Thatcher: "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."

Do you think being No. 2 is a good thing? Why or why not?

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