No two days are ever the same for a Chief of Staff. One day you are brainstorming long-term strategic goals with executives, the next day you’re planning a series of speaking engagements, and after that, you are the conduit for collaboration between multiple departments who are trying to iron out details of a new program. There’s no one trait or function that defines your role as Chief of Staff, which is why we so often hear it called “a catch-all.” However, through our own research conducted with Chiefs of Staff and secondary research from McKinsey, there are 6 key functions identified that best describe the role. You are undoubtedly at one time or another playing all of these functions in your position, but you may find that a few speak to where you spend the majority of your time.
Any business is going to have issues arise that require the attention of the CEO, but the majority can be handled by an effective Chief of Staff. Having a trusted gatekeeper to triage problems reduces distractions and allows the CEO to focus on what’s most important to the company. Additionally, a good gatekeeper will also bring pertinent issues to their leader’s attention in an organized, succinct manner.
Every good business needs someone who demands structure, establishes processes, and creates efficiencies within the highest ranks of the organization. Their adherence to timelines, budgets, and the mission keeps big thinkers grounded. A Chief of Staff who is adept at converting abstract ideas into smooth operations means that there are fewer fires for the CEO to extinguish.
A well-crafted strategy is just words on paper until someone takes the reigns and drives it to reality. The implementer translates a strategic vision into action. They strive for innovation and encourage employees to try what’s never been done before. An effective implementer holds teams accountable and moves change forward. They are champions driving business priorities from conception to completion.
Leaders and departments often work in competition with one another instead of in cooperation toward a common goal. Integrators create cohesion among their peers as well as the people they lead. Genuine and thoughtful, integrators hear people’s concerns, find common ground to build a foundation of trust, and inspire engagement in the corporate vision.
There are hundreds of important decisions that need to be made every day, but the CEO can’t always be in the office to make the call. CEOs need a reliable ally to step in and make decisions when they’re traveling, developing new business, or attending to special projects. It’s critical that the CEO and their Chief of Staff communicate clearly with one another and share expectations so the proxy can act with confidence.
Perhaps the most important role is that of trusted advisor. They act as strategic thought partner, confidante, and sounding board. CEOs need space to brainstorm freely, discuss option, and freedom to vent frustrations without igniting panic through the ranks. Effective advisors are not yes-people. They must be comfortable telling the CEO when they disagree.
These six functions can be helpful in communicating the essence of your role to others, both internally and externally. Are there other functions we should consider? Let us know!