The Power of Number Two

Today we live in a world obsessed with “leadership” development. I’m all for it, although the sheer number of leadership books, seminars, blogs, conferences, and more is sometimes overwhelming. What I’d actually like to see would be more training in how to be a great number two person.

I’ve been thinking about that since the passing, not so long ago, of Cliff Barrows the number two man behind the Billy Graham organization for so many years. Many knew him as the crusade music director, but throughout his career, he was so much more.

I only met Cliff a couple of times casually, although it was his job to approve a TV special we produced for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association many years ago. Word was, it was a little too cutting edge (meaning: weird) for him, so he almost shut down the project. But by the grace of God, after his wife was moved to tears after accidentally screening the project, she stepped in to save it.

When it was finally broadcast, The Los Angeles Times reported it was the most-watched Billy Graham TV special in history. I’ll never forget it was his willingness to trust his wife that led to that program being broadcast.

The remarkable thing about Cliff was his eagerness to do anything and everything for the sake of Billy’s vision. Notice I said “Billy’s vision.” Being number two means that your dream may be set aside to make number one’s vision happen. But with a great team, number two sees the potential of the long play.

I had the opportunity to see a great number two in action in Bob DeWeese, associate evangelist for Oral Roberts. Back in the day, it was never about Bob. He was happy to work behind the scenes making things happen for the bigger vision.

In nearly every great church, nonprofit, ministry, or business, there’s a vital number two person working, and without them, those organizations would struggle. Having seen a number of them in action throughout my career, here are a few characteristics that make a number two person so critical:

They’re able to subdue their ego, dreams, and plans for a great number one. Sure, they have their own ideas and vision, but they understand the importance of working toward a larger goal.

There is an extraordinary level of trust between a great number one and a great number two. With the best teams, there aren’t jealousy, grudges, or ego battles. They know how to work in harmony, and it comes from a deep-seated trust.

The number two person is willing to take the day-to-day hits, so that number one can focus on the bigger picture. A senior pastor, CEO, or other top leader is there because he or she has a big vision and goal. If they spend all day dealing with routine, day-to-day issues (and criticism), that vision will never be fulfilled.

The number two is often more practical than number one. You’ll find that number two people are usually more detail-oriented and organized.

Finally, great number one and number two teams always share the victory. The fastest way to create division is to force a number two to do the hard “grunt” work during difficult times, and then when the victory happens, number one takes all the credit. It’s a team effort, and great number ones are the first to admit it.

If you’re the top person, value your number two. And if you don’t have one, make finding one a priority. And if you’re the number two in your organization, know this: You’re the foundation that allows number one to soar. Without your regular, day-to-day leadership, your organization would never be able to fulfill the vision.


 This article was extracted from Issue 6 (Summer 2021) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.

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