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Richard Hynter

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Richard HynterIt’s time for a C change – says Richard Hytner

 
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‘First the worst, second the best, third the one with the hairy chest.’

That rule of the playground didn’t make the rounds at Richard Hytner’s primary school. He only found out that being first might be worst, or at least second best, when he went back to school, aged 43. At London Business School, he discovered that life without the CEO’s armband, the PA and the car parking space felt like unbridled liberation. Four years later, towards the end of his tenure as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Europe, Middle East & Africa, he concluded he was rarely happy making the big ugly decisions, yet really happy influencing the cause. So he decided to become a deputy.

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For the first time in his life, second became his first choice and for 8 years he has served as deputy chairman of creative powerhouse, Saatchi & Saatchi, prompting him to write a book about the joys, motivations and particular skills needed to lead from the shadows.

Our relationship with hierarchy, he says, remains unhealthy: ‘you are a Number One or a Number Who’. The regrettable conclusion is that the roles of deputy, adviser, counsellor, assistant – the ‘anybody-but-the-number-one’ – are seen to be less worthwhile and less desirable for ambitious and aspiring leaders, an assertion with which he wholeheartedly disagrees.

Leadership has always reached far beyond the boss’s office. Consiglieri – or Cs as Hytner calls them – are corporate leader-makers and leaders in their own right, performing roles in which they make, shape, illuminate and enhance the success of the ultimately accountable A leaders and their organisations. From conversations with over 100 leaders, Hytner’s research unearths insights designed to improve the relationship between Cs and their As, as well as between cs.

The cast list of Cs on whom the A depends can be extensive. It will include the directors of finance, strategy, operations, human resources, team leaders and others close to the seat of power, perhaps the chief of staff, project manager or executive assistant. Whilst the most confident As have a wide circle of diverse Cs. they also like to have one defining C – perhaps David Gill for Alex Ferguson, Dr Steve Peters for David Brailsford, Sean Fitzpatrick for John Hart, Sheryl Sandberg for Mark Zuckerberg (Richard W – feel free to insert your own rugby/sports examples)

Why become a C? Some choose the C role simply out of aversion to the awfulness of the A role (who needs the sleepless nights, the relentless scrutiny and the short tenure?). But the majority of consiglieri positively embrace their roles. They have learnt the joys of influencing As whom they admire and respect. They wish to be close to power and to have autonomy to get their jobs done. They are insatiable learners and they get their kicks by being the person through whom every decision has to be made. The feeling of indispensability can be a bit of an addiction, a galvanising motivation for the C. In the words of Margaret Thatcher, describing her dependence on Lord Whitelaw: ‘Everyone needs a Willie’ and, for the most part, it feels good to be the Willie that’s needed.

It is easy to want the top job; less easy to know whether being the ultimate decision-maker is right for you. Do you really wish to be an A, the main attraction and the ace of absolute accountability, or might you prefer to be a key C, who leads, influences, counsels, guides and helps the A deliver? Some people are markedly predisposed to one type of leadership. Yet, like great sportspeople, musicians and politicians, great leaders are capable of mastering different positions on the field, of playing more than one instrument, of grasping a new brief. Complete leaders should work both A and C muscles.

 

Perhaps the C’s greatest quality is an ability to subsume the ego, if not entirely then to the extent that deep contentment can be found in a life spent in the shade. C leadership is, for the most part, a private pleasure. It involves ceding cash, status beyond a subtle association with the A, recognition, ultimate control and, at least temporarily, the ambition to be A.

It’s time for a C change.

Richard Hytner is deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide and adjunct professor of marketing, London Business School

Consiglieri: Leading From the Shadows was published by Profile Books in the UK and the US, Russia and China.

Visit www.consiglieribook.com
and follow Richard Hytner on twitter: @RichardHytner

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