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Importance of having an effective Chief of Staff

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A Chief of Staff helps a leader focus on what s/he does best.

But no individual can jump directly into the position of trusted confidant. Organizations are composed of humans and complex networks of interlocking relationships. To be fully effective, a Chief of Staff must understand these networks, and must be seen as a trusted agent. If you’re considering such a position for your own team, here are the four major steps I’d recommend so that the Chief of Staff can become a thought-partner and facilitator — and a true productivity hack.

  1. She must know the network. If she’s constantly answering your every need, she’ll have no bandwidth to develop an understanding of the organization. Give her time to connect with the organization.
  2. He must be seen as a force multiplier. Allow him time to develop trust-based relationships throughout the organization, and to bring you insights you wouldn’t otherwise receive. Allow that information to shape your thinking and create wins.
  3. Be transparent. My rule of thumb was, I want this person to think up to the 85% mark for me (the top 10-15% was mine to own). But if the Chief of Staff isn’t deeply exposed to your strategy and priorities, she can’t possibly triage information and focus your energy.
  4. Don’t create a Rasputin! Don’t put your Chief of Staff in a position where others believe he is driving your decisions, or the position will lose its trust. Be very clear with the staff where information flow stops and your own decision cycle begins.

As a leader, this transition is easier said than done. You want to feel connected to the organization and you want to do the things you’ve been trained to do, whether that’s shifting logistics or overseeing product development. But as you climb the ranks of seniority, what I like to call “functional excellence” becomes less and less important.

While you may have expertise in a certain area, your time as a senior leader is truly best spent doing the things that only you can do: serving as the face of the company, creating the culture for your employees, meeting with important external parties, and providing strategic direction for the future.

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