For the first time, leaders are tasked with solving the riddle of a simultaneous recession AND labor shortage. Leadership playbooks deal with one or the other – not both at the same time. In this article, I discuss a very special professional role that goes by many names, including Second in Command (2iC), Deputy, Lieutenant, Number Two, and the more colloquial: Wingman. When linking together multiple 2iCs as a Second in Command chain, game-changing multiplying effects can be seen, which is especially valuable in this recession-labor shortage era.
Recession and Labor Shortage Oxymoron
Just when the world is moving into an endemic phase after the pandemic, we now have an impending recession. While financial analysts debate when the recession will hit (e.g., 2022 vs 2023), nearly all agree – a recession is coming. Some say it is already here and point to evidence in layoffs, increased homes on the market, etc. However, labor economists are quick to point out that despite these early or potential recession signals, there is still a labor shortage.
The labor shortage isn’t going away anytime soon either. There simply aren’t enough people in the workforce. Among the top reasons for an insufficient number of employees are baby boomers are really retired, the opioid crisis, and fewer people were born during the last recession (some of whom should be in the workforce now). One of the best articles on this topic was by EMSI, which shows readers the data and evidence.
Ok – so we’ve got two issues happening – 1) impending recession and 2) perpetual labor shortage.
Of course, many leaders today have already been through a recession. The 2008 worldwide economic crisis was just 14 years ago. And already, with this recession, we are seeing similar tactics from a pre-pandemic world more than a decade ago being used. Companies are laying off staff, rescinding job offers to people who have already resigned from their current job, reducing budgets, and cutting business travel.
On the labor side of things, people are still quitting their jobs (although in smaller numbers), tens of thousands of flights are being canceled due to insufficient staff, and employers report extreme shortages (people and supplies) in some key industries. This is surprising given the regular headlines that a recession is either here or will be here shortly.
So, what are leaders to do with this two-pronged issue?
Outsmarting a Labor Shortage
One could read the above economic and labor issues as ‘doom and gloom’ or … you can read it as an amazing opportunity to pull ahead of your competitors by achieving phenomenal success!
I love the Winston Churchill quote, ‘never waste a good crisis,’ because it reminds me that while a set of circumstances can seem overwhelming to navigate, the situation is unique. The stars will probably never align in this way ever again. So – we need to make the most of these lemons and find the lemonade.
In this case (recession and labor shortage), leaders are contending with the competing priority of reducing costs (dealing with the recession) while still producing results (which requires people). While technology can, does, and will help with the labor shortage, it won’t solve all the labor shortage problems. Since technology is only part of the answer, leaders need to be thinking about how to solve problems brought on by the labor shortage that technology can’t alleviate.
2iC as a Multiplier for the Labor Shortage Problem
We’ve all seen wasted resources. For example, a poorly attended work holiday party, meetings with people who didn’t need to be there, or a meeting that should have been an email. It is maddening for all involved. This pain point is further exacerbated when there aren’t enough people to get the work done, and folks continue to use the same tactics without trying anything different.
In short, leaders no longer have the luxury of just hiring more people to get the workload done. The labor shortage and need to cut costs because of the recession make that impractical. Instead, leaders need to consider a new organizational framework that includes the use of 2iCs, thus multiplying a team member’s contributions.
What is a Second in Command – 2iC?
If you haven’t heard the term second in command (2iC) before, you may be more familiar with terms like deputy, or executive officer (XO), some may call the role a #2 (of course, that can have a different meaning … so I’ll stick to 2iC). A 2iC comes from military terminology. In its simplest terms, 2iC refers to the person in authority or command who is taking care of the details at the next layer down from the supervisor. A Second in Command isn’t just for the CEO anymore. If C-Suite leaders want success from their entire organization, every leader, especially those with significant impact on people and/or money, needs to have their own Second in Command.
2iC vs. a Chief of Staff vs. a Chief Operating Officer
A 2iC is not necessarily a chief of staff or chief operating officer. A recent article describes these two roles as two different and important ones. “Deputies are second in command empowered to act in their superiors’ absence. Chiefs of Staff give their leaders increased leverage by managing them, their priorities, programs, projects, and communication. Each is important in their own right, but a Deputy’s leverage is direct, while a Chief of Staff’s leverage is indirect.”
2iC Key Skills
There are many skillsets that a 2iC utilizes. The following are a few of the key skills that I have experienced as well as observed in other 2iCs.
- Communication – 2iCs use communication as a critical skill. They are constantly communicating information and messaging to folks that will be impacted. They do this not only to inform but also to gather input to shape the actions and implementation of each project.
- Compassion – They care. 2iCs go beyond empathy and show compassion for the people whom a given project or change will directly and indirectly impact. In order to be compassionate, the 2iCs need to communicate with others and really get to know what folks care about and what motivates them. As a result of their highly developed communication skills, they are uniquely situated to be very compassionate – and achieve phenomenal results.
- Strategy and Preparation – Moving beyond strategy, 2iCs use a combination of strategy and being prepared to be ready for anything. They regularly think through multiple options, much like a grand master chess player.
- Managing Cross-Functional Teams – Because their work often cuts across multiple departments and divisions, 2iCs often manage. As a result, they are able to motivate others to action based on the ‘right thing’ rather than a chain of command.
- Quality – 2iCs take excellence to another level with their standards of quality. They envision high levels of quality that take a project from complete to phenomenal success. Since they consistently operate at high levels of quality at all times, it becomes routine to create high quality in all that they do. This is especially important for increased visibility or critical impact projects (e.g., health, safety, compliance, media, external affairs, etc.).
2iC Chain Personal Examples
I not only was the beneficiary of having a 2iC, but I also served as a 2iC to a 2iC. When there is a chain of 2iCs, the effect is even more powerful than just one 2iC on its own. I’ll describe each.
I have had the privilege of being part of two 2iC chain experiences. The image below shows how a 2iC chain looks in an organization chart. The results have been nothing short of phenomenal – and among the best part of my professional career.
- Serving as a 2iC and Having a 2iC: I held a senior leadership position where I served as the 2iC to the president, AND I also had a member of my team who served as a 2iC to me. This chain effect created a multiplying effect where the three of us combined accomplished phenomenal results.
- The Last Link in a 2iC Chain: I also served as a 2iC who served as the 2iC to the President. Being the last link in a 2iC chain opened up new perspectives on the 2iC chain and the importance of having a chain. Serving as a 2iC to another 2iC creates incredible momentum for accomplishing big goals with passion.
Take Action – Progress over Perfection
I’ll end this article with some action steps for consideration for helping ambitious leaders put the ‘organize’ back in organizations.
- Share this article with your organization (e.g., co-workers, team members, supervisor, etc.).
- Include the article as a discussion item on your next teammeeting agenda for infusion of these strategies in your team and/or organization’s current challenges.
- Who are the 2iCs at your organization? Does your organization have any 2iC chains? How do the results from the 2iC chains compare to a single 2iC and leaders without a 2iC? What kind of results could be achieved with 2iC chains?
- What is the next project you (as an ambitious leader) can apply this framework to?
- Could the leaders in your organization use a boost in implementing this framework for your next quarter’s planning or 2023 planning? I can help your organization achieve its ambitious goals.
- Are you signed up for my newsletter — Knowledge is Powers? If not, scroll a bit more and add your email to the list. I only send amazing content when it is ready – not when the calendar says it is time.