Image credit: HBR article on Chief of Staff in June 2020

Chief of Staff — The 2nd Brain of the Executive

The is the 2nd part of my series on Chief of Staff role. In the first part, I provided a mathematical illustration to the role of a CoS as:

CoS = Executive Assistant + PMO + Strategic Thought Partner + Operations Manager + Communications planner + Meeting/event design/coordinator + Research expert + Liaison + Executive’s Proxy

What are the functions of a CoS?:

Each component in the equation could be broken down into the role’s functions. In my experience, some of the core functions of a CoS that I could execute are:

There are more duties and responsibilities, which some CoS’ take up such as: setting frameworks to align budgets and plans, owning strategic planning process etc. These, however, vary depending on the context of the organization. Nevertheless, the overarching goal of any CoS is to help the Executive succeed, and work in the shadows to get stuff done.

What are the key attributes and skills of a CoS?:

I think that a good CoS excels in the role by dynamically deploying 3 main powers — Mindsets, Attributes and Skills. I say ‘dynamically’ because not all of them need to be deployed at once. Now, each of these has multiple qualifiers that I think are extremely critical for the success of a CoS. They are:

Relationship between a CoS and the Executive:

It is no brainer that the fundamental bedrock for the success of anyone in a CoS role is: Trust. Trust is not only about how a CoS guards critical information pertaining to the Executive and the organization. That forms only a small component. Trust encompasses the credibility a CoS impresses upon the Executive, his/her stakeholders and his/her direct reports, by demonstrating consultative skills, execution capabilities, and strategic thinking. Without trust, the CoS will become a glorified EA. But with Trust, the CoS has the potential to become the 2nd brain of the Executive.

Establishing Trust takes time (typically beyond 6 months) and both — the CoS and Executive, tacitly negotiate on this building of trust. Besides execution capabilities, a CoS could actively build trust by focusing on aspects like:

These are some ways in which a CoS can imprint his/her reliability on the Executive’s mind. Trust is not a point-in-time manifestation. It needs to keep accruing and when it accompanies solid performance by the CoS, the CoS becomes a force multiplier. When the Executive experiences a ‘resonance’ (alignment in thinking) with the CoS, he/she might elevate the CoS into a strategic thought-partner, involving the CoS in several brainstorming sessions and also letting CoS play the role of Executive’s proxy in some situations. And when the relationship strikes that ‘resonance’, it could be the most enriching phase of CoS’ career. On the flip side, the lack of ‘resonance’ could be a pain.

I personally feel that the Executive-CoS relationship plays out between these two binary possibilities. And it is in the best interest of a CoS to aim to become the 2nd brain of the Executive.

to be continued in part-3.

Chief of Staff in Deloitte. Music. Art. Writing. Productivity. Psychology. Books. Habitual offender in discarding hobbies.