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BW Businessworld

Second In Command

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The title of the book Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows is curious and fascinating. Being a big admirer of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, my initial thoughts on reading the word Consiglieri were: ‘Is this a book on The Return of Tom Hagen or Tom Hagen Part II?’ On reading the book I concluded that the answer is yes, but a different yes.

This book, indeed, is  about the Tom Hagens’ of today’s world. They are there everywhere — business, governments, sports, arts, movies. You name it and they are there — quietly leading from the shadows, choosing to become the trusted deputy of the all-singing, all-dancing, always-deciding CEO. Indian history and mythology is full of them: Hanuman, Krishna (even Shakuni and Vidur), Chanakya, Birbal... the list goes. Even J.K. Rowling’s  character Harry Potter has two: Ron Weasley and Hemione Granger!
Subroto Das
Richard Hytner, the author, perhaps knows what he is writing about. He is the deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi and CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi EMEA. In his book, Hytner gives a fresh perspective on the importance of consiglieri in making a leader. The author, who is also Associate Professor of Marketing at London Business School, makes a strong case for recognising the true worth of the often overlooked and extremely influential consiglieri (pl.) — the many deputies, advisers, counsellors, assistants, ‘anybody-but-the-number-1s’, who support, inform, advise, enhance, illuminate the final decision maker. He outlines a simplistic approach to leadership that comprises of As and Cs. While A is the ultimate leader, the decision maker and the face of the organisation, the C or the consigliere is the person influencing those decisions. Cs counsel, support, and deliver for the A. Cs are leader makers and leaders in their own right. And this book is a leadership manual about the relationship between the ultimate leader and their many kind of deputies.

The book has three parts. The first part examines the qualities of A and C leaders (Cs are leaders in their own right) and highlights the special attributes of As. The second part describes the Cs, their motivations, their qualities and their types. Great C leaders enjoy a lifetime of learning, developing other people, driving new ideas, taking pressure off As, enlightening them with some fresh thinking, and are brave enough to tell As what’s what. The third part provides advice for A on choosing the right Cs and counsel for Cs on picking the right A, living harmoniously with them and leading them to glory.

Overall, the book is a new take on the age-old doctrine that “first is the best.” It’s a useful read for remedies to what the author describes as the “Second Syndrome”. Having spent a sizeable time in the corporate world, my recommendation would be that talented leaders try both roles as both are necessary, rewarding and challenging. In any case, in senior leadership positions, both roles are done simultaneously… while you may have an A etched on your name card, you may be a C to your board, your customer or your partner. Now, let me stop where the book starts: “First the worst, second the best, third the one with the hairy chest”…

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 15-12-2014)