Joe Nocera has an interesting--though many will say too indulgent--piece in the Saturday New York Times up about Kenneth D. Lewis (formerly) of Bank of America as a second banana who didn't know how to play first banana.
I don't have enough independent knowledge to judge, except to suggest that Nocera seems to be citing a special instance of a far more general phenomenon: second bananas are always getting in trouble when they try to be first.
You'd think they'd catch on. Nocera's whole point is that Lewis built his career on his capacity to do precisely those things that his boss did not know how to do. No reason at all to suppose that he has the much different skills needed for the top job.
I suspect there are all kinds of case: division-of-task teams, where one guy plays Mr. Outside and one Mr. Stay-at-home, Some second bananas know this and don't let it get to them and count themselves lucky to do as well as they do. Some just can't stand the fact that somebody else gets the glory while they stay in the shadow. And quite a few of these--like Ken Lewis--find that the spotlight isn't as comforting as they may have supposed. Think Anthony Eden, the long-serving, long-suffering British Foreign Minister who made a perfect fool of himself in the top job. Or Gordon Brown, who has seen the fairly impressive rep he achieved as Chancellor of the Exchequer only deteriorate as he grapples with the job of first chair.
I'd say the problem overlaps with, though it is not identical to, the problem of the straight man in comedy. Think Abbott and Costello: the record is somewhat murky here, but there seems to be good reason to believe that some of Abbott's drinking problem was traceable to his conviction that the wrong guy got all the credit. How sad he couldn't just take his paycheck and whistle off to the bank.