By Trishia Lichauco, Prime Chief of Staff Coach
Chiefs of Staff often find themselves in a no-man’s-land in the organizational chart and in their function. They do work for a senior leader and yet their job can be nondescript. It is why we use the term a “jack- or jill-of-all-trades” to convey the position.
In this unique role, there is an expectation that you can and will do almost anything. After all, you were hired because you have a variety of skills: you can hold an effective meeting, create an impactful PowerPoint presentation, write a succinct report, run to the drugstore for your leader’s meds, set up a perfectly thought-out client lunch, keep calm during a crisis, facilitate sustainable relationships, read a detailed P&L, pick up a project midway through its cycle, develop and implement initiatives, kindly mentor a new employee, represent your leader in committees, etc., etc., etc.
On the other side of your cube or office is Susan, the director of fundraising, and you look at her both in awe and envy. She seems to be focused on one thing, and that is to bring in funds for the organization based on an annual goal with milestones to go along with it. She has a designated staff that supports her efforts. That looming deadline drives activities. There is a finite time and a prescribed number that serve as a beacon of light at the end of the tunnel. At meetings, she talks about one thing —percentages of the financial goal. She has a process for how to increase this goal, appointments to keep, prospects to tap, and visits to create —because there is a deadline, and her job is to meet it. She has a specialty.
You, on the other hand, are the generalist. It is in your toolkit to provide a wide range of offerings to any constituency in your organization. You are the heart behind the org chart, with strong instincts and the responsibility to tell the truth when nobody else will. You can navigate in between and through blurry political lines because you have the wherewithal to know when to step in or back off. While you are not necessarily tied to strict deadlines (except those of your unending to-do list) and do not think of only one thing on a daily basis like your colleague next door, you are looked to as the main resource for strength, hope, possibility, and positivity. Your colleagues seek you out for information. They walk into your office for a barometer check. You are the champion of the culture and trusted by many.
Being Chief of Staff means being extremely comfortable in the gray zone where you carry a flexible perspective and are knowledgeable in many areas. You can seek common ground with ease because you can nimbly adjust to the moment or situation. You encourage the ability for knowledge sharing both horizontally and vertically. You are keen enough to read an audience and advise your leaders to respond appropriately. Your mastery is not in one specialty, but in the overall view of how an organization works and what needs to be done. You have a bird’s-eye view and have the option to dive in more closely when needed. In other words, you observe from above while getting things done on the ground.
The Jacks and Jills of an organization can create a culture of openness and continuous learning by accepting their strengths as Chiefs of Staff. Mind you, not everyone is cut out to be the master of a generalist’s wide portfolio. If you are, how might you gain the confidence to accept this skill with which you are inherently gifted? How might you use this ability to contribute to society? How can you accept that your skill set lends itself to taking on a broad set of duties? What can you do to use this platform to effect change for the greater mission?