Genies, unicorns, and Chiefs of Staff. What could these rare creatures have in common? Besides their abundant beauty and power, they are (somewhat) mythical to some. As more and more individuals take on the largely misunderstood role of Chief of Staff, we find ourselves defending and defining just what the role is and, more importantly, what it does for an organization.
We recently conducted new research in partnership with Christina Lacerenza, Ph.D. and Liza Barnes at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business to better understand the Chief of Staff role and its impact. As part of our findings, we learned a few interesting facts about Chiefs of Staff that debunked some common misconceptions we hear about this role.
Myth #1: Chiefs are not people managers
People are often surprised that Chiefs of Staff do not manage a vast number of people in an organization. We can understand why from the title; however, it is commonly believed that Chiefs do not have any direct reports. They appear to be strong individual contributors, but are not provided the opportunity to manage people. Yet, our research found that a majority of Chiefs (62 percent) have at least one direct report — and the average number is four. While this role does require strong individual contribution, it also requires the ability to manage others both directly and indirectly.
Myth #2: Chiefs are not in a leadership role.
Chiefs of Staff are leaders full stop. There is a common misconception that in order to be a leader, you have to be the first in command. Chiefs of Staff must demonstrate strong leadership skills to navigate the role, whether they are using it as a stepping stone to another position or not. Our research found that nearly three-quarters of Chiefs (74 percent) sit on the top management team of their organizations. This means, they are leaders who are perceived as leaders as well.
Myth #3: Chiefs do not have much influence
Some believe this role is more title than substance. To that, we also very much disagree. And the research does, too. We found that two-thirds of Chiefs are involved in capital budget decisions, 87 percent are involved in changes to the company vision or strategies for growth, and 89 percent are involved in strategic planning.
Myth #4: Chiefs are just glorified assistants
This is the one we hear most often. While we believe assistants of every kind deserve more recognition, we do not believe Chiefs are in the same role. Again, the research supports this. We learned that 79 percent of Chiefs have at least one Executive Assistant in their executive office to carry out more of the tactical and logistical operations. Additionally, 85 percent of Chiefs of Staff are involved in specifying strategy for their organizations.
Myth #5: Chiefs have no personal life
Yes, this role is usually very demanding. However, our research surprised even us on this. While Chiefs are getting close to experiencing symptoms of burnout, they are not there yet. Therefore, it is important for everyone reading this to understand how important it is for Chiefs to take time for themselves, especially in a role that has little to do about them.
We hope to continue our research on the Chief of Staff role and provide more data and statistics on this largely misunderstood position. It is time we all acknowledge that this role is impactful and influential for organizations, and the individuals who serve as Chiefs of Staff are experienced and talented leaders.