“Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else.” – Judy Garland

I learned nothing about business while I was growing up and didn’t have much money. But I was eager to learn and worked hard — and those two qualities made me an excellent second banana.

Being No. 2 has its advantages:

* You have a lot of power, sometimes as much as No. 1.

* You can make a lot of money, sometimes as much as No. 1.

* You have the support of the most important guy (something he can’t say).

* You are first in line to take over when No. 1 leaves.

In “Never Wrestle With a Pig” Mark McCormack says, “Do the math. Whatever the size of your organization, there’s room for only one person at the top of the pyramid. Everyone else falls short.

“That doesn’t mean that everyone who is not the boss is a failure. On the contrary, to the shrewd, self-aware manager who doesn’t lose sight of his objectives, it’s an opportunity. All you have to do is aim slightly lower. If you can’t be No. 1, what’s wrong with being No. 2?”

I’ve made this point before. (See Message #273, “Sometimes It’s Smart to Shoot for Second Place”) For most ETR readers, the path to success lies in becoming No. 2. But what’s a No. 2? If the second rank of your organization is called “executive vice president,” does becoming an executive vice president make you No. 2?

Not if there is more than one executive vice president.

Set your goal to be the top man’s No. 2. And do a great job of it by doing the following:

* Compliment him. I’m not telling you to be a “yes man” and I’m not telling you to fawn [see “Word to the Wise,” below] — but find out what he’s great at and tell him how much you admire him for it. Ask to be his protégé. Do this earnestly. If you fake it, he’ll know.

* Complement him. Find out something he is weak at and learn to do that well. If he’s great at big ideas and short on follow-up (a very common leadership characteristic), become great at follow-up yourself

* Disagree with him. Not all the time — and only when you are sure he is wrong. Have the facts at your disposal and have at least two alternative ideas handy to offer when he accepts your correction.

* Be loyal. This is the No. 1 rule for being a good No. 2. Find out what he really wants in life (and in business) and make that your primary business goal. You must operate in support of his goal even when he’s not watching. The only way you can do that is by making it your top goal too.