In Praise of Second Fiddle Leaders

Expressions of servant leadership are found when you concede being in the spotlight by putting someone else in it.

Where were you on April 8, 1974 at 9:07 p.m. EST? It might be a stretch for some to remember where they were last weekend, much less on this date 42 years ago, if indeed you were even alive. But I remember the date and time like it was yesterday. I was glued to my TV watching one of my sports heroes make history.

The stadium in Atlanta, Georgia was filled with 53,775 joyous fans. It was in the fourth inning with a runner on first, when finally it happened - with one powerful swing of the bat – baseball history was made. Hank Aaron hit homerun number 715 into the Braves’ bullpen in left field. Babe Ruth’s long-standing record was finally broken.

But there is another part of the story that is rarely, if ever, mentioned. Right off the top of your head, can you name the pitcher who threw the ball to Aaron? What team were they playing? On that April night, someone had to be the hero, and someone had to make it possible. That person was left-handed veteran Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Downing had a career ERA of 3.22 with a win-loss record of 123-107. On this historic night, Al Downing was second fiddle.

Second fiddle. Not a very glamorous sounding title is it? But were it not for untold thousands of people who courageously bear the name, we would not have our heroes to idolize. To be sure - every quarterback needs a center, every NASCAR driver needs a crew chief, the boxer needs a trainer, etc. Behind and beside every successful person is a second fiddle who helps make it all possible.

Who are the second fiddle people in your organization? Chances are you have already identified this person. They are your most reliable go-to people who make things happen without being asked or told. They have an intuition of what needs to be done and take action. They prefer the shadows over the spotlight and whose job, when completed, make you look better than you are.

I contend that what we need today are more people who play second fiddle. Yes, we need strong leaders out front casting vision, defining the mission, and leading the way. And yes, we need our heroes to cheer who inspire us to be our best. All of my teammates in Little League wanted to be like Hank Aaron.

But in a culture where people clamor for the spotlight perhaps a second look is in order. The backbone of every successful leader, organization, business, and any other worthwhile cause is a dedicated group of people who play second fiddle- the unsung heroes, the real leaders.

So here is to the second fiddle leaders out there – I write in praise of your leadership. You have conceded the spotlight by putting others in it and by doing so have shown what servant leadership is all about. People may not know your name, or see the tireless contributions you make, but none of it could be done without you.

Al Downing may be a tiny asterisk in the annals of baseball history. But were it not for Al Downing on that April evening 42 years ago you wouldn’t know the history of Hank Aaron. We need more players willing to step up the big leagues and play second fiddle. Are you game?

By the way, the Braves won the game 7-4.

© 2016 Doug Dickerson

Doug Dickerson is an internationally recognized leadership speaker, columnist, and author. A Lowcountry resident, Doug is available to speak for your civic, business, or church group. To learn more visit or email him at

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