Image for post
Image for post

Inside the Peace Factory: A day in the life of a 2IC

The job of the second-in-command is to forgive, to reason, and to be ruthless. The fascinating and contradictory nature of those demands is a large part of why I love doing the job. It’s also a job where, if you’re doing it well, nobody notices that you’re doing it.

I wrote a clickbait headline

In my piece “It has begun: The war for Agile20Reflect” I painted a picture of an organization divided, at war with itself; at the end, I offered a tiny sliver of hope. It’s worth noting that I chose to portray things in a negative light because I was confident that the problems could be solved, if we got people moving in the right direction. That tiny sliver of hope (the question “What do you want?”) was something I wanted people to focus on, and to actively ask the question.

  • The appointment of a 2IC is an unmistakable sign of hierarchy, which is not going to be acceptable in an Agile event
  • The legitimacy of the leadership itself was being questioned
  • A successful campaign to become 2IC in an organization committed to non-hierarchy is a threat to the integrity of the organization
  • If everyone does the work of a 2IC, then there’s no need to appoint someone in that role
  • The inevitable pain of being 2IC
  • What good 2IC work looks like
  • The consolations of being 2IC

It always starts innocently

One of the delightful replies to my clickbait article said that perhaps the Agile20Reflect said (in summary) “It might be a good idea if there was a long-form writing component to the festival.” This struck me as a really good idea, but it also made me nervous. I’m better at remembering my own good ideas, not so good at remembering other people’s good ideas. Here was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that I was listening to the community, but failing to act on the suggestion would undermine trust.

It never rains, but it pours

If you’re doing your job as 2IC, you’re pissing somebody off. On a good day, you’re pissing off the competition by performing so much better than them that they have no idea how to keep up. On a bad day, you get a reply to the publicity for your new digital whiteboard that says “I’ve already put four event ideas into the existing whiteboard, why is there a new one?”

The paradoxical comfort of being second in charge

The single most comforting thing a CEO can say is this: “I’ve listened to your advice. I think you raised several valid points. We’re going to do something else.” From that moment on, the second-in-command is off the hook. I did what I could. Now my job is to follow orders as best I can. If it all goes completely to hell, then it won’t be my fault.

The Challenge

People get involved with volunteer projects for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes (like me at the moment) we do it because we’re looking for something less emotionally demanding than our day job, where we can put our skills to use. Other times, we do it because we want to take on increased responsibilities and unfamiliar challenges. ‘Giving something to the community’ is something we all sincerely want to do, but it’s rarely enough reason in itself (donating money would be cheaper and easier for most professionals).

Written by

Nick Argall is an organization engineer, structuring activities to help businesses achieve their goals.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store