Coming first isn't everything.
Some people do a great job of being No. 2. Look, for example, at this piece of advice from a master of deputising:
"One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is 'to be prepared'."
And with that sentence, plus a lot of other incoherent, perplexing statements - not to mention the odd misspelling - former American vice-president Dan Quayle comprehensively dashed his hopes of ever becoming the top dog. Nobody liked the prospect of a man who couldn't spell ‘potato' running the world's most important country.
Quayle suggested an 'e' was appended to make it 'potatoe'. Instead, we point you to another 'e': evolution. In our book Naturally Selected, we say that human leadership evolved because it provided the best chance of a group's survival. We also posit that we continue to favour this kind of natural leadership today, which is why we like benevolent leaders who trust the judgment of their colleagues, who share praise and blame, and also the spoils of good leadership, such as company profits.
But leadership today isn't always so harmonious, particularly when it is shared between two individuals who don't share the same outlook. And when does this odd situation arise? In a coalition. Chimpanzees form uneasy coalitions, and so do humans (we share much of our heritage, including leadership behaviour). In human society, we frequently form political coalitions, in which two or more parties team up to govern because no single party holds a convincing mandate.
That's the norm for Western Europe: Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are governed by coalitions. So too is Britain; the Prime Minister is David Cameron, a Conservative, and his deputy is Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat (the LDs constitute the UK's third most popular party, behind the Conservatives and Labour).
'I forgot I was running the country'
And when David Cameron was in the Middle East recently, it fell to a reporter to point out to Clegg that he was now officially running Britain. To which he quipped: "Oh yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that." Clegg then went on to say that, in the age of the Blackberry, there was no need for Cameron to relinquish control merely because he was abroad, but this deputy PM had already given the indelible impression that he did not take his deputising duties seriously. And no wonder: he is not a real deputy, not in the ancestral sense.
Clegg had leadership ambitions of his own, and he wanted to run the Government, not be second in command. That, of course, is not really what a deputy is for: his task is to lead when the leader is absent, to carry the torch along the path that the leader has chosen. In effect, a deputy leader is a leader's first follower. Given the immense policy differences between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, such as on university tuition fees, it is nigh on impossible for Clegg to step convincingly into Cameron's shoes. Neither completely trusts the other: while Clegg doesn't seem keen to rise to the challenge of governing (because governing involves furthering a Conservative agenda), you can bet that Cameron isn't too keen to cede power either.
Choose your partner carefully
It's a real flaw in any political coalition between two ideologically different parties. Their top brass might work together but they are not reading from the same manifesto, let alone from the same page. This might be why coalitions are so unstable: Italy has had 62 Governments since the Second World War. The Cameron-Clegg show makes Obama's choice of VP, in Joe Biden, looks smart: he's an older guy, not a young Turk, and he doesn't particularly harbour leadership ambitions of his own. John McCain might have thrown his campaign with his choice: few relished the idea of Sarah Palin running America if McCain couldn't.
So if you want to be a great deputy, admired by your boss and underlings alike, stick to these rules:
- Be loyal to the leader - or, be his first follower. Anything else looks like betrayal.
- Work hard to fulfil his objectives.
- If you want to be a leader, keep your ambitions hidden
- When you take charge, look and behave like a leader
- And, if your desire to be the alpha male is overwhelming, move to a different organisation that can accommodate your raging ego.