Mary Poppins – is she your best next hire?

Last week I shared some thoughts inspired by the musical Hamilton and the qualities of Alexander Hamilton as George Washington’s “right-hand man” or “#2”. If you are Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the wildly successful musical, Hamilton, what kind of gigs await your future? It sounds like he will be starring in the new adaptation of the Disney classic, Mary Poppins. In this version, Miranda will play a new friend to Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins, Jack.

So Miranda will go from playing the entrepreneurial #2 leader I shared in last week’s post to starring with another iconic #2 — the film version of Mary Poppins. (The book version of PL Travers’ Mary Poppins is considered to be more vain and pompous and less sympathetic to her charges.) For most of us, Julie Andrewsis Mary Poppins!

Here’s a quick recap. In the beginning we see the dysfunctional Banks’ family. George, the father works too much and isn’t thrilled with the state of his household. Jane and Michael, high spirited children with their antics, have motivated another nanny to quit. After George advertises for a new nanny, Mary Poppins flies in and with her special magic and wisdom, firmly but kindly puts the Banks family back together. After all is well, the wind changes and Mary is off to what one assumes is a new family.

In my book, Tandem Leadership: How your #2 can make you #1, I share four types of #2 leaders: Entrepreneur, Consultant, Professional and Trainee. Mary Poppins neatly fits the Consultant #2 and here’s why. In comparison to Alexander Hamilton’s Entrepreneurial #2 where his end game was to have his own command, Mary has no desire to become the head of the Banks family, go off and start her own family or take the Banks’ children with her when she leaves. She understands and chooses to be exactly who she is – an amazing, magical supporter of healthy and dynamic children and mender of dysfunctional families. She understands the need for stability and attends to not only creating awareness of what is important to the family’s success but also implementing a new family relationship structure to keep that success going.

In today’s context, Mary could be that consultant or contractor who, after initial success with a job or project, is hired for a permanent position. She slides easily into the company culture and having her there identifies a gap that needs to be filled. For an overworked CEO or owner, having someone that actually likes to do the things that you don’t like to do or aren’t good at, is a relief. You notice your team calming down and the day-to-day life seems more manageable.

And then one day, Mary gives you her notice. Shocked and surprised – you tell her, “But everything is going so well!” And that’s exactly the reason – everything is going well and it’s time for her to move on. The exact thing that has made her good at her job for you is what motivates her to leave – she needs to find the next company or position that needs her skills and talents more than your company does. In contrast to an Entrepreneurial #2 who needs and want to have her own company, a Consultant or Fixer #2 needs to find the next company she can help make better.

When I work with owners or CEOs, I am often asked, “Which one should I hire?” And the answer is “it depends.” In General Washington’s case, he needed someone to carry on his business as a surrogate with the continental congress and other military leaders which Hamilton did well. Hamilton, also knowing he wanted his own command, saw benefit in learning from the best person who he could work for at the time to achieve his own end goal.

The benefit of a Consultant or Fixer is they constantly see things that can be improved and are less likely to be co-opted by the status quo. When hiring a Consultant/Fixer #2 it is not usually as much about upward mobility but taking care of the current situation until he or she is no longer needed. This doesn’t mean that someone in this position always leaves quickly – they just stay until they have completed their task or obligation. And you don’t want them to stay longer than they should. Consultant #2s will start “fixing” things that no longer need fixing – ultimately creating more problems that need to be solved. Consultant #2s are exceptionally good leaders in times of change or growth because they adapt so easily and can help others do so as well.

In next week’s post, I’ll introduce you to the Professional.


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