Deputies are Rubbish

One of the few good outcomes of budget cuts and subsequent management restructuring has been getting rid of all those unnecessary management posts, the ones that had deputy or assistant in their title. The ones that seemed to carry status but had no real power. I mean what does the deputy president of the US do or our own deputy prime minister? Likewise what did those assistant chief executives do or those deputy directors all of whom were on salaries close to the real thing? They use to joke that Gerald Ford couldn’t walk and chew gum and John Prescott was never taken seriously in the media neither is Nick Clegg. There is a school of thought that says weak deputies are appointed so as not to be a threat to their bosses. Despite the fact that deputies are suppose to step in during the absence of the boss this only seems to apply when the chief decides it’s not important enough to warrant their time and presence. So if you’re working group or committee is chaired by the deputy well that tells you all you need to know about it status, power and influence,  so presumably you will send your deputy. If deputies were any good more of them would get the top jobs the fact that they don't shows how the role is viewed.

Hold on though deputies may be undervalued but many successful leaders did their best work with a deputy. Look at Brian Clough and Peter Taylor brilliantly successful together with Derby and Nottingham but on their own well just ordinary.

 A deputy is part of a double act-good cop bad cop, one is good with the politicians the other is good with the troops, one has all the ideas the other knows how to turn them into reality, in other words complementary skills.

One characteristic common to all deputies is loyalty whatever happens the deputy and boss must appear to be united. The deputy can listen to criticism of the boss but never appear to agree with it.

The fact that the recently appointed boss might want to bring their deputy with them is evidence of how much they value them. This happens in football and may be acceptable in the private sector but it’s not the way thing are done in local government. Members are not prepared to give up their power to appoint all senior officers especially as this often involves some horse trading behind the scenes between the leader and cabinet members along the lines that I will let you have your way on this one on the understanding I get my way when it comes to my area of responsibility.

However in my experience even where the deputy post has officially been done away with everyone knows who the unofficial deputy is.

Blair McPherson author of Equipping manager for an uncertain future published by Russell House

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