Developing a Lieutenant

Posted in management by Christopher R. Wirz on Mon Mar 14 2016

Note: For this post, assume you are a leader.

Every leader needs a great second in command, a lieutenant. This is a reliable collaborator and go-to person. Within a team, a lieutenant is usually not a formal position. Instead, it is an informal role - but still very valuable.

A lieutenant can stand in for a leader when needed. This can provide a leader with more time and increase coverage. A lieutenant can help a leader manage multiple stakeholders or support multiple activities. A lieutenant helps keep a leader connected and help other employees follow the leader in tough situations.

Following difficult decisions, it can be hard to build support. Even for great leaders, employees will not love every decision. However, when one person shows support, others are more likely to do so as well. For this chain reaction, the lieutenant can become a catalyst for support.

The lieutenant can also serve as a great conduit for feedback from the team. Sine leaders have an elevated status, others may hesitate or censor themselves. A good lieutenant can bridge that gap. This provides the leader unfiltered feedback about how the team really feels with respect to the issues at hand.

A lieutenant should also play devil's advocate for a leader. They should be willing and able to speak up privately and question the direction of the group's work. They will question a leader's assumptions when needed. A leader should give the lieutenant this right. This practice often increases the quality of a leader's thinking.

A leader must realize that the lieutenant may be a huge part of a succession plan. Sometimes a leader is passed up on a promotion because higher management is not confident that someone else can be equally as effective. Developing a strong lieutenant provides this option.

A lieutenant should not be a clone with identical views and approaches to issues. While some overlap is normal, a leader should foster a lieutenant's unique professional growth. A lieutenant should not be a person who always seems to affirm whatever the boss says and does. This also means that a lieutenant is not an enforcer or someone that handles the dirty work to let the leader avoid conflict.

A lieutenant is only effective when viewed by others as a positive respected member of the team. Leaders know that they can get more done by also developing the leadership pipeline for the future.

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