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The Number 2 Man

Sincere, competent and reliable and conscientious, Derek D'souza was a good production manager. One day Derek's boss the works manager opted to take up a job overseas. With a salary hike we promoted Derek our no 2 man to look after all manufacturing. Technically capable the indefatigable and sincere, Mr. D'souza took to his new role like a duck takes to water. 

Derek faced many problems in discharging his new responsibilities well. Our organisation's performance on productivity and quality as did the morale of the team remained a concern.

Six months after his promotion, a frazzled looking Derek came to see me. After the usual courtesies he placed an envelope in front of me. With apprehension I read the contents of the letter inside. Derek was resigning and wished to be relieved from his job at the earliest. To say I was shocked would be an understatement.

 He said he could not handle the pressure. 
What? Why? I threw many questions at Derek.

I experienced a mixture of feelings, confusion, betrayal, anger, frustration, and then sadness. I guess I always took the departure of any close member of our team as a personal failure.

My behaviour oscillated. First I tried reasoning with Derek, then outrage, then concern and finally with emotional blackmail. Had we not treated him like family? Had we not been there for him always etc.?

Manufacturing and operations people are normally the least political and are invariably a highly reactive lot. A little incident or a careless remark can trigger an outburst. Maybe it is the extreme pressure that they have to work with so many things all of them critical and and urgent. 
Surprisingly Derek sat there resolutely. His mind was made up. I concluded that Derek would leave our organisation no matter what. A week later we formally accepted his resignation.

As was the practice I conducted an exit interview. Whenever an employee left the organisation we would have a chat to learn more about the issues that brought about the separation of the individual from our organisation and extended family. Notes would be recorded for future reference on designing and continuously shaping our Human Resources policies.

Derek ever the gentleman kept dodging the main issue as why he was really leaving. He finally blurted out " It is all your fault. I never wanted to leave but I have to escape or I will go mad". I was flabbergasted. How dare he blame me? However I was curious for I had never encountered such an allegation before and so bluntly put.

He continued, "I was unprepared for this job, you should have given me time and trained me before giving me the promotion. I was happy until you promoted me. The money and power tempted me. I can't handle the pressure of the responsibility. The pressure of the top position and fear of failure is killing me."

Derek was right, it was mainly my failure not his. We over-promoted a good man and give him responsibilities greater than he could handle. He would have a great job had we groomed him for the new job but we had failed.

Succession planning is a very serious matter that should receive great importance from people at the helm of affairs. Failing to plan is planning to fail.  

Rarely do organisations and leaders prepare their people for assuming greater responsibilities. Lazily they often choose to fill up vacancies from available staff simply because they are conveniently available, and leaders have run out of time to man the position. 

Candidates like Derek are always eager for more authority and benefits often jump at the opportunity. Sometimes if lucky the candidate is a good fit, but more often than not the promotion becomes an embarrassing  disaster. 

Almost everyone desires to be promoted, often believing that life will get better as you rise up the organisation's hierarchy. However every step higher in the organisation makes more demands on the individual and an exponential increase in responsibility. People get bigger ego trips but enjoy it less.

We were all sorry to see Derek leave. On the positive side every setback is an opportunity to learn and improve. Some important lessons were;

  1. The present is so demanding that we fail to plan for the future. The organisation structure must be designed to cater to current and future needs for implementing the organisations strategic plans.
  2. The organisation's leadership should have ready at all times a succession plan for each critical position in the team. Even then the best of plans can fail so you need to keep ready plan 'B' in the eventuality that the successor groomed is unable or unavailable to step up to the crease. 
  3. Succession plans will highlight strengths that need to be leveraged and deficiencies in individuals that need to be addressed. This will give illuminate training and development requirements. 
  4. Match the personality, attitudes, skills, knowledge and capabilities that the individual possesses or will acquire by training and development with those that the position or situation demands. Failure to do so will hurt both the people and the organisation. 
  5. Not every good and capable individual in the second in command position is automatically a good leader suited for the top position. 
  6. You may take the horse to the water. But even love, respect and support may not always be enough to get the unwilling horse to drink the water. 


People almost always seek the path of least effort.  Bosses love to shoot from the hip. Failing to be be proactive, leaders and managers often react rather than respond. Often disastrously mistaking knee jerk reaction as dynamism rather than good leadership.

My recent experiences shows that managements and leaders are increasingly challenged because;

  • The volatility in the employees market where demand outstrips supply, employees do not expect to be with the same employer for very long. They jump jobs like riding on a merry-go-round . This happens mainly in organisations that provide little or no challenge, lack dignity for people, stress them unnecessarily and excessively, create immense de-motivating bureaucracies or simply do not pay enough for people to stay for the headache.
  • Organisations that cater to the soft side of their key employees expectations of dignity, challenging work, job enrichment, job satisfaction, opportunity to learn and develop have lower attrition rates and also more successful in implementing succession plans


  1. I completely agree with the line "This happens mainly in organisations that provide little or no challenge, lack dignity for people, stress them excessively, create immense de-motivating bureaucracies..."
    As someone who worked his way up the ladder and headed departments for more than half my career, I found insecurity among my managers as the biggest stumbling block. It's a very common issue that a lot of CEOs don't address or allow to fester.
    What's the point in promoting people and not giving them the authority to take decisions? That puts even more pressure on them. I've had the misfortune, even as a manager, of working under complete jerks, who were terribly insecure and had little experience in people management. In meetings I would often suggest to my managers how we would get a job done more efficiently and watch them either ignore the suggestion or do exactly the opposite, only because they were so worried that success would be a feather in my cap and not their's. Managers with short-sight are worse than managers who do not know. And there are a lot of both around.
    So my question to you is: In a situation like the one mentioned above, is it proper for a manager to break the chain of command and directly approach the CEO, if he finds that his immediate manager is being a jerk?

  2. Jerk or not is the subordinate's perception, the boss's view may not be the same as yours.

    I find that when upset most people start blabbering and rambling. Instead they need to be most articulate.

    Knowing my aggressive nature I would advise my juniors not to debate with me, but to put down facts to justify their position or view. You can argue with or even bully the subordinate but not so easily with 'hard' facts.

    Every individual, organisation is unique and there can be no one approach. Generally speaking this is what should happen. If the person can backup their complaint with hard facts or convincing arguments you MUST bypass the immedeate boss. This is assuming that the boss's boss is not a jerk.

    Bypassing the immedeate boss to go the CEO will be construed as an act of war by the boss. If you start it you must be prepared to finish the war.

    If you are in a government job this is not advisable as your CR (confidential report) will be preared by your immedeate boss. That is all the government looks at for future growth of the subordinate & you will be butchered. This is why there is so much apathy in Government functioning, where appeasing or buttering the boss is more crucial then doing your job.

    Boss's have huge and often extremely fragile egos. Bypassing the immedeate boss to go the CEO will be construed as an act of war by the boss. If you start it you must be prepared to finish the war. The CEO may not support you and in that case you as the loser of a war must be prepared to be banished.

  3. Vasant Khisty said

    Good one GS. Emotional intelligence at higher levels is much demanding, and emotional intelligence can ben grromed a bit but basically its the inherent characterstic of a man.

    People with higher emotional strength can sustain at the top. One thing i learnt is pressures if taken can drain a man. If a man has the capability to over look and neglect many trivial issues he can be much happier.

    If a man can realise that the world is not in his control and there is some one else managing the show, he can be more at peace.


  4. Gurvinder,
    I don't know if you remember that little report about "why employees leave" where it was mentioned that even the most committed employees leave because of their immediate managers.
    I worked in managerial positions in three of my jobs and it makes me happy when people call me up even five years after I've left the company to say that I was best boss they worked under. I am not showing off, but I realised how simple it really was.
    It didn't take too much effort - just the ability to listen and accept that even a junior could give suggestions that ran contrary to mine, and that he was right and I was wrong. I am afraid, that is what I found lacking in the managers I worked under. And this wasn't my perception alone.
    Replying to Vasant's comment, one can attain that higher level only if you are detached about your job. If you are passionate about what you do, it is next to impossible.


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