“It takes a lot to be a good Number Two”- 14 February 2012

When Prakash joined the company as Deputy Managing Director, everybody was keenly waiting to see how he would manage things particularly when the Big Boss was such a difficult person. Big Boss was a snappy fellow, who would not hesitate to make dirty remarks about anybody and did not mind insulting his subordinates left, right, and centre. He claimed that he was a perfectionist, but did not know that being a perfectionist was nothing short of being mentally sick. All had found working with him very tough, and they felt that Prakash really would have to work hard to measure up to the task of being a Number Two to such a bad boss.

Prakash’s background was however different. He came from nearly an aristocratic family. He went to a great business school. He then spent some time at London School of Economics acquiring for himself a specialist degree. And then he landed this job under perhaps a terribly tough boss. All worried for him and sympathised for him.
Prakash, however, was a smart guy. He sized up the situation in just a few days. He understood that the Big Boss was a difficult person to work with and to work for. He also understood that his other colleagues would be of some help, but would not mind him failing. For, that would give them an opportunity to gossip, to have fun at his cost. That was how corporate world behaved.
Prakash did not mind. And why should he? He knew that he had not joined the company at someone’s mercy; he had come on his own terms and had to live by those. So, right from Day One, he kept his expectations from people low, and relied on himself to do things, at least initially. The first thing he decided to achieve was a strict, uncompromising time management. So, each morning, he arrived on dot of 8.30 and got down to working the moment he arrived. Until lunch at 2 p.m., he completed three meetings that included one with the Big Boss. After lunch, Prakash followed another and tougher regime of going around the whole place, talking to people, understanding the situation, helping those who needed help…..!
And as he followed the day’s routine that lasted well beyond 8.30 in the evening, Prakash was aware fully that the Big Boss was keeping a keen eye on him, perhaps waiting for him to make a mistake and then blasting him. Prakash knew that he could make a mistake or two during the course of work. So, he kept himself mentally prepared to take the flak calmly. On some occasions, when the Big Boss caught him on the wrong foot and blasted him in the presence of ten others, Prakash did not mind. He only said, “I am sorry, Sir. I will take care.” He did not shout, did not show his weak nerve, did not empty his impotent anger onto his subordinates.
This approach helped. Everybody, including the Big Boss, realised that Prakash’s mental antecedents were right. In just a few months, Prakash established for himself a high credibility quotient. And then one day, something big happened. Big Boss called him to his office and declared that he was proceeding on a 15-day leave by handing over the whole charge to Prakash.
That was something the company had not seen for years. Big Boss never relied on anybody. He stayed put all the time. And he said openly that he did not find anybody suitable to hand over the charge even temporarily.
Everybody realised that Prakash had made the grade. And that was possible because Prakash analysed the conditions correctly and handled his own mental processes and responses sensibly. Those fifteen days were tough because every buck stopped at him. He endured robustly. And then came a really big day.
Big Boss returned. And then he declared that he had not gone on a holiday; it was his working time away from office. He had acquired a new business for the company, of course with the Board’s full knowledge, and was all eager to hand over the new enterprise to Prakash as its CEO.
At his farewell, Prakash said only a few words: “Look fellas, it really takes a lot to be a good Number Two. And it all happens in the mind. If we carve out a good mental process, then we make the grade. That was what I did”.

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