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Balancing loyalty and ambition

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger
Leaders like to secure their legacy. What better way to ensure the next person doesn’t undo your good work than grooming your successor. The latest example of this is the new President of the US. Formerly the Vice President Joe Biden was championed by President Barack Obama. President Biden has himself selected  a young Vice President with ambitions to be the first female President. The Biden camp has even indicated that taking account of his age he may not stand for a second term opening the way for his Vice President. But can an ambitious deputy be kept loyal by the promise of taking over the top spot when it becomes vacant?
The only reason to be deputy is to use it as a stepping stone to the top post.  Every ambitious deputy, and all deputies are ambitious, seeks higher office but strives not to be seen to be actively perusing the post because above all else deputies are required to be loyal to their bosses.

Every deputy see the mistakes their boss makes, knows they would never make such mistakes, would never become so out of touch with their own staff or so badly misjudge the mood of members, be so careless with partners trust or take for granted the loyalty of colleagues. Should the director leave or be forced out the deputy is ready to act up. Not to apply for the permanent post  would be seen as lacking ambition or as signal that they were planning to go elsewhere so lacking loyalty to the organisation.

Of course they are never going to be offered the post because it is assumed there must be better candidates out there. Maybe if they can deliver the delayed restructuring, get the budget back on course, sacrifice management posts in the name of efficiency and offer up more cuts than were called as a demonstrate their corporate credentials they have a chance, they just need the time. Their motivation is simply a desire to serve during these uncertain times.

In these austere times deputies have increasingly been seen as a luxury. Many organisations have done away with the post(s). In general bosses did not put up much of a fight to keep their deputies after all its easier for the board to sacrifice the chief executive following a series of poor results if their is an able deputy ready and waiting to step in.
However many organisations may have been too quick to disestablish the post of deputy. Leaders and deputies can complement each other’s skills and experience certainly that’s President Biden’s thinking in appointing a young black women as his Vice President. But for most organisations the benefit of a deputy is away for managers to feedback what the leader may not want to hear. The deputy is more accessible and a good leader uses their deputy to take sounding and find out what managers really think of the new strategy, how they are getting on with the new IT system or whether the restructuring/merger is as going as smoothly as HR claim.

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