Does Your No. 2 Leader Have What it Takes for the Top Job?

March 14, 2022 – When clients lack internal bench strength and succession planning does not deliver, they retain executive search firms to recruit the organization’s next leader. Whether it is a chief executive officer, executive director, or president role, organizations tend to be favorably disposed toward sitting CEOs, those who are current No. 1 leaders. “While this may be a safe and traditional strategy for attracting and recruiting their next leader, we advise and firmly believe that our clients are best served by also engaging and giving serious consideration to ‘strong No. 2 leaders,’” said BroadView Talent Partners, in a new report.

A strong No. 2 — whether a COO, CFO, or otherwise dynamic direct report to a No. 1 — can potentially be your next great leader. “No. 2 leaders who truly aspire to be a CEO, and who possess the grit, determination, and drive as well as a demonstrated track record of leadership and positive business outcomes should also be on the radar screen,” said the firm. “Oftentimes, these hidden gems find themselves isolated or stuck in organizations with pseudo-succession plans, saddled behind long-tenured leaders. Nevertheless, No. 2 leaders who truly have the chops to be CEOs won’t rest and cannot truly be at peace until they get their first shot to achieve their highest career goal and aspiration.”

No one was born a CEO. Every experienced chief executive had to assume the post for the first time at one point. They served with distinction in positions of increasing responsibility, delivered consistent operating results, demonstrated a high EQ,  and excelled in the leadership, management, and relationship cultivation aspects of the role. “These rising stars strategically managed their careers, developed strong followerships and influenced key decision-makers and power brokers on their way up the ladder,” said the BroadView report.

Not every No. 2 is meant to be a No. 1. “As you assess, evaluate and informally reference potential candidates, boards and their search partners must ensure that these prospects have the requisite aptitude and attitude, passion for lifetime learning and personal growth, and a healthy dose of purpose and conviction,” said the search firm.

The Qualities They Need

These prospects cannot be living or pursuing somebody else’s dream or projected goal for them; it must be something that they viscerally want and truly believe they can do. Oftentimes, No. 2 leaders feel external pressure or expectations to become a No. 1, when, in fact, it may not be intrinsically in them to assume a CEO post. “That’s not the candidate profile we want our clients to hire,” said the search firm. “We must catch the right individual at the right time in their life and career, who is ready, willing and able to meet the challenges ahead.”

A credible No. 2 must have superior business acumen, high emotional intelligence, and superior communication (both oral and written), as well as presentation, interpersonal and relationship management skills and great instincts, said the search firm. These individuals must be creative and innovative, strategic, and visionary and have excellent negotiation, influencing, and persuasiveness capabilities.

Three Key Takeaways from the COVID-19 Crisis

From culture and talent management to health and wellness, the pandemic has spotlighted several valuable lessons for organizational leaders to carry with them going forward. “With many organizations maintaining a fully remote environment and others adopting a hybrid approach, the employer playing field as we knew it has changed,” said a new report from BroadView Talent Partners. “By letting go of old-school beliefs and embracing transformation, the savvy leader can enjoy increased productivity while creating a healthier work environment with happier employees.” The Fairfield, Conn-based executive recruitment firm cites three lessons of COVID-19 that all business leaders should adopt: support a healthy work/life balance, be intentional about protecting your stars, and reinforce the importance of health and wellness.

Finally, an ideal No. 2 can make tough, sometimes unpopular decisions, is poised in a time of crisis, has an acute DEI and belonging lens, and is proud to serve as the “jealous guardian” of a positive organizational culture. “Whether they currently sit in CFO, COO, general counsel, or other C-suite roles, in addition to the qualities and characteristics cited above, these particular No. 2 leaders also have a charisma and magnetism that is compelling,” said BroadView Talent Partners.

Waiting to Shine

“As a search firm, we look very seriously at those individuals who have runway and upside, who are determined to reach their highest career goal and aspiration as an executive leader. Often, all it takes is that first opportunity, and they’re off and running,” said the report. “A No. 2 can be a stronger choice than a pre-existing or ‘recycled CEO,’ one who is closer to retirement or who does not bring the same level of energy, vision and creativity to tackle the organizational challenges that await. Ultimately, you don’t want a CEO who is simply ‘marking time’; rather, you want a CEO with a fresh perspective, clear vision, and an integrity beyond reproach.”

Remember, the CEO role is not for everyone. “Approximately less than three out of 10 leaders are truly equipped to serve in a No. 1 capacity, irrespective of their aspirations,” said the firm. “However, many No. 2 leaders wait in the wings, hungry for the opportunity to shine. Your goal is to find the next leader who can demonstrate that they have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and track record to be an exceptional leader.”

Founded in 2015, BroadView Talent Partners is a national executive search firm dedicated to placing leadership in affordable housing agencies, non-profit organizations, and associations, as well as middle market companies. The firm provides clients with a national network, commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and a record of long-tenured placements. Its specialties include executive search, talent acquisition, retention solutions, career management, executive coaching, and board development.

Related: CEO Leadership During COVID-19

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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