Right Hand Man Philosophy

I’ve been developing this for a while now. It’s time to stop acting like this isn’t something either completely stupid or an idea that hasn’t already been thought of by someone more intelligent than me at some point in history. Or multiple points.

In high school, I was asked by a teacher, going around the classroom, if I thought I was a leader or follower. My answer was that I didn’t know. She agreed she hadn’t figured me out either. “I haven’t made up my mind about you” she said. Next, a student responded that he was a follower and the teacher came back with “Why would you say that about yourself?” as if it was an insult. His answer:

“Well, you have to have followers or who do the leaders lead?”

Unexpectedly insightful answer from a fat kid in camouflage with a hook placed on the bill of his ripped up hat. The teacher shut up and moved on. But the idea has stayed with me for a long time- “Yeah, what’s wrong with being a follower?”

There’s nothing wrong except at maybe face value. But you have to be the right kind of follower. Any idiot can be the sort of follower who tries to reap the benefits of the leader while shouldering none of the blame. That’s the stereotype of the mindless loser. It’s unfortunately all too real and we have too many of those. Not really fit for much productivity.

No, you want to be greatest sort of follower- the right hand man.

I’ve written many right hand men types in my own stories. Over time, I recognized this pattern with myself and started to piece together why I like them so much. They enjoy many benefits of being a part of the group, carry certain leadership qualities, but have all the freedom of not being the actual man in charge. The character with the burden of moving the story along often doesn’t get to have the same kind of fun. There’s too much weight in their actions. So the right hand man is freed up for moving things along, but not directly responsible. In fact, I appreciate them so much I’d started to think it’s a good sort of character to emulate.

You know what a right hand man is. Quick definition is that they’re not the man on the throne, but the man behind the man on the throne. People don’t come to them for kingly advice while the king is present, but it’s the right hand man the king turns toward to make sure his word is carried out.

To give you more of an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a short list of what I think makes a proper right hand man you should aspire to be (or look for, if you’re in that position). No order of importance here.

  1. Loyalty. This isn’t some “HuStLE/LOyALtY/rEspeCT” or single-word mantra your trashy friend has tattooed on his forearm while knowing nothing about what it actually entails. This is about doing what your superior asks of you when they need it done and even allowing yourself to view them as a superior in the first place. Don’t let your ego get in the way. You’re not obeying the way a slave or pre-programmed robot would. Sometimes the leaders themselves don’t know what they’re asking. This would be your job to know the ins-and-outs of what it would actually take to complete the task. Maybe something is being asked that isn’t possible/feasible. You don’t just say “Yes,” fail, then blame them for giving the direction. You inform them of the concerns you have or why their idea won’t work. Their reaction will partly tell you what kind of leader you’re working for. More on that in a second. But once you hitch your wagon, don’t just let the connection break for any reason.
  2. Know your place. Do not confuse this with the insult but don’t be so sensitive you would even take offense. This is about legitimately knowing your place. No reason to see yourself equal to the gum under your superior’s shoe- but also don’t think that because you’re not in charge, you deserve to be. You’re not the boss. You’re not a partner. And you’re not a sidekick. Once you recognize your place, you can operate more smoothly; without the entanglements of the kind of thoughts that drag you down because you’re “not getting what you’re owed.” The right hand man, by definition, is not in charge of every single thing- use this liberty to your advantage.
  3. Independently minded. This one almost seems contradictory to being any sort of follower, but as mentioned earlier, we’re not talking about the dumbest kind of follower obeying the worst kind of leader. Good leaders can’t train willful idiots and smart-but-manipulative leaders will just use idiots and decent people the same way. Here, you need to be able to do what’s necessary without someone breathing down your neck. This involves integrity as much as it does critical thinking. It’s not about pretending to play a role while someone is there so that you look good. It’s about follow-through regardless of who’s watching. And knowing what time to yourself you’re owed, while we’re at it.
  4. Recognize who is worth following. If I was doing this in order of importance, this might come first. But I’m not doing that, so here we are. Knowing who to follow should be as important to you as surrounding yourself with the right kind of people whenever you might find yourself in that sort of position. Would you want to lead a bunch of stooges? No. So don’t follow one. But it’s not as simple as that. You have to know how to recognize a good leader, which might entail following someone whose potential isn’t anywhere close to being reached- but you know they’re making the attempt– so help them. You’re serving the higher principles this person should be reaching for, not the person themselves. If you begin to figure out who’s not worth the time, they can be dismissed- or maybe even led- by you. But figuring out who leads you is first.

I’ll add that you shouldn’t be so attached to your superior that you deem everything they say as either pure gold or the most disappointing stupidity you’ve ever had to endure. You’re not looking for a father/mother figure here. People doing this exact thing is why celebrities are often made over night and broken down that much quicker. We look to the rich, famous, or simply more upstanding to set the new standard then throw them in the trash with no risk on our end- then move onto the next idol. But that’s spineless. Superficial. Wasteful. Know your place, but that goes for knowing their place too. They can screw up, you can screw up, anybody can screw up- but getting back on track, and learning how mistakes were made is key for everyone.

As mentioned, leaders are not inherently good. Look at who’s leading your own country. You probably hate them. If not outright stupid, they’re probably corrupt. Or worse, they’re both. In either case, they’re probably getting away with it. All they need to do is screw you over a little more. This isn’t an indictment on the position of leaders though. We need them. Not all of them, but the position itself. It’s as inevitable as the hierarchy. What I’m talking about is looking for your nearest leader. Not just anyone, but who’s already available to you. This doesn’t have to be all big picture. Compare federal politics to local. You want to start local.

I’ll end it here. No need to bloviate more than I have. A list of right hand men in storytelling will be posted soon.

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