Richard Hytner on Leadership

Richard Hytner, the deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi and the author of Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows, speaks to Lillian Cunningham of The Washington Post about leadership. Excerpt below, read and watch the full interview here.

Q. You gave up a chief executive role at Saatch & Saatchi. Do you remember how that conversation went?

I decided that I had enough of being the No. 1, all-out accountable leader, and that I really fancied trying a different role as a deputy. I said out loud in a corridor somewhere, “I just never want to be a chief executive ever again. It’s horrendous.”

I was hauled in by the HR director, and he said to me, “Whatever you do, Richard, do not ever again be heard in public saying you don’t want to be a chief executive.” And I asked him, “Why not?” He said, “Because people will think you don’t want to be a chief executive ever again.”

That was the kind of the point. I didn’t want to be.

Q. What lesson did you take from that exchange?

A. What I took from that was how people feel about deputies, assistants, number twos. There is still an embedded assumption that if you choose to be a No. 2, there’s something wrong with you. There’s a flaw. You lack ambition. You’ve lost your talent. In this race for the top, you’ve given up.

That’s why I decided I wanted to write this book: to bring the No. 2 position temporarily into the spotlight. To show people that there’s honor in it. There’s joy in it. There’s a craft in it. And you can lead from that position often more effectively than you can from being the out-front leader.