7 Key Practices for Second Chair Leaders

Second chair leadership isn’t second class. It is a real and beautiful calling which can be a great place to learn for a season without all the pressure of leading as the first chair. It can also be a strategic position of significant influence.

Second chair leadership isn’t second class. Share on X

Yet the role of second chair has its own built-in challenges.

Here are seven practices to help you steward this important position:

1. Build Trust – Trust is the currency of leadership, and second chair leaders need to actively build a “trust bank account” with their first chair leader. Deposits need to be made over time. This means delivering your deliverables with excellence, ensuring clear and regular communication, implementing effective execution, demonstrating dependability, having a strong work ethic, making good decisions, keeping a positive attitude, listening well and encouraging others often.

Trust is the currency of leadership. Deposits need to be made over time. Share on X

What is your trust “account balance” with your first chair?

2. Only One Leader Is Perfect – The view from the second chair can make it fairly easy to track a first chair leader’s foibles and fumbles. If you are ever tempted to dwell on your first chair’s liabilities, just remember that there has only been one perfect leader, Jesus.

Thankfully, it is ultimately Jesus whom you serve. This doesn’t mean your first chair gets a free pass from growth and improvement, but it does mean that you need to be quick and frequent in extending grace.

What can you learn from Davids treatment of Saul?

3. Pray for Your First Chair – Praying for your first chair pleases the Lord and is a powerful way to serve them as well as see transformation in them and yourself.

Do you pray more for your first chair leader than you critique them?

4. Develop Relationship The greater relational connection you build with your first chair leader the better. Find common ground and connection outside the daily business you share.

What are you doing together to deepen your relationship?

5. Ask Guiding Questions – Asking guiding questions is a powerful stimulus for raising issues and starting discussion in a manner that is inviting and less threatening than a statement for all involved. So before you make a blanket statement or take a firm position, consider asking a question that helps your first chair leader thoughtfully pause and think. Seeking to invite discussion is far better than sparking a defensive posture or miscommunication.

Asking guiding questions to invite discussion is far better than sparking a defensive posture or miscommunication. Share on X

How can you turn your statement into a discussion question?

6. Speak Up When Needed – In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell recounts the crash of an airplane into the side of a mountain. The examination of the flight voice recorder revealed that both the copilot and navigator not only knew they were flying to their deaths but could have averted the crash by speaking up. They stayed silent because of fear, established protocol and culture.

The lesson here is that there are times when you need to very clearly speak up. The key is to discern when to do so.

Is there anything you need to speak up about?

7.Beware of Poison – Jealousy (“I should be the one in the spotlight”), pride (“I could do this better”) and self-pity (“I do all the hard work”) are all temptations facing second chair leaders. Left unchecked, these temptations slowly and subtly grow into a very deadly poison. Check your heart regularly and constantly monitor the words of your mouth so you can quickly address any sign of poison.

Is any poison evident in your thoughts, words or actions?

Which practice do you need to focus on this week?

Cheering you on,

Dr. Steve A. Brown
President, Arrow Leadership

[adapted from previous work by Dr Steve Brown, 2012]

Want to get better at asking great questions?

Great questions are so critical because they:

    • are powerful teachers
    • inspire deeper reflection
    • provide important space for listening to God and others
    • aid discernment and clarify what is really important
    • encourage creative solutions
    • expose bottlenecks
    • illuminate new pathways forward


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