|May 16, 2011
from the desk of Chuck Violand...
Good Monday morning, <<First Name>>—
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. These words of wisdom I often heard growing up. They usually referred to names people were calling each other. It’s amazing how little some things change.
As adults we continue to call each other names. In business we sometimes refer to them as titles: Entrepreneur, President, VP, and CEO to name just a few. But there are some titles most people don’t aspire to because of the negative image they project.
In this two-part series I’ll attempt to reverse the knock one of those titles, Second Fiddle, has received over the years.
SECOND FIDDLE, PART 1
by Chuck Violand...
Second best; next in line; first alternate. These are all ways of describing someone known as a “second fiddle”—usually not a flattering title for the person wearing it. The Merriam Webster dictionary doesn’t help matters when it defines second fiddle as having secondary status, or one that plays a supporting or subservient role. This title usually conjures up images of being second rate, living in the shadow of the one in first place, or riding someone else’s coattails. I would venture to say it’s not a position most people aspire to hold.
In my opinion many “first fiddles” would not have achieved the success they did had it not been for the people who served as their second fiddles or “sidemen”.
Just about everybody knows Elvis Presley and the fame he gained in his career. What you may not know is that it was Scotty Moore who served as Elvis’s first guitarist, manager for 14 years, and his sideman, eventually being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame himself in 2000 in the sideman category.
Don Henley and Glenn Frey became famous with their band, The Eagles. But they were sidemen for Linda Ronstadt before going out on their own. Phil Collins was a sideman to Peter Gabriel in the rock group Genesis before taking over lead vocals after Gabriel departed the group.
Fourteen of the most famous second fiddles, or sidemen, in American politics were Vice Presidents who went on to become “first fiddles” of the United States. Several of them became legendary statesmen in their own right, making significant impacts on both American and International stages: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman to name just a few.
“Second fiddles” aren’t limited to just the world of music and politics. The business world is loaded with examples of executives who served as sidemen to much more recognized industry leaders.
John D. Rockefeller had Henry Flagler; Andrew Carnegie had Henry Frick. In more recent times Bill Gates has Steve Ballmer; Mark Zuckerberg has Sean Parker; even the “Oracle of Omaha” himself, Warren Buffett, has Charlie Munger.
I think the role of second fiddle is grossly misrepresented, and the value they offer their counterparts is vastly understated. What’s more, I believe the role of “second fiddle” is a vital one for any business leader.
I’m going to go way out on a limb and say that any of the second fiddles I mentioned could argue that the roles they played, and the contributions they made, played a significant part in helping their respective counterparts achieve the success and notoriety they enjoyed.
Every front man recognizes, and has a deep appreciation for, the invaluable contribution his sideman makes. And every sideman understands the critical role he plays with his front man. In Part II I’ll explore in more detail how each partner can maximize his own performance, and in turn maximize their combined performance as a team.
THE VIOLAND EXECUTIVE SUMMIT
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