Your chief of staff can give you increased leverage by managing you, priorities, programs and projects, and communication. Most leaders are unbalanced. They are relatively stronger or weaker across strategy, organization and operations.
- Those relatively weaker operationally need strong chief operating officers.
- Those relatively weaker organizationally need strong chief human resource officers.
- Those relatively weaker strategically need strong chief strategy officers, often titled CFO, CMO, General Counsel or the like.
Those few balanced leaders must have strong chiefs of staff to give them leverage across operational, organizational and strategic processes. At the same time, strong chiefs of staff always give leaders more leverage by managing the leaders themselves, priorities, programs and projects, and communication.
An effective chief of staff (COS) will manage your schedule/diary in line with your priorities so you can spend more time on the most important things and less time on less important things. Part of this is managing distractions – either making them go away or dealing with them with a minimal use of your time – if any. This requires the COS to be your close confidant, understanding your priorities and helping you think things through.
Decision rights matter. Be make sure you and your COS are clear on when they are:
- Making a recommendation or request for you to decide or do something.
- Seeking your contribution/input on a decision or action that they are going to make or do. (COS won’t go forward without your input.)
- Informing you about a decision or action they intend to make or do so you are aware, can learn, and can veto or change as appropriate (COS will move forward unless you re-direct them. Silence is consent.)
- Following up for you. This is about influencing others’ schedules/diaries in line with your priorities so priority items aren’t getting dropped or delayed by others
Manage Priorities, Programs, and Projects
A strong chief of staff acts as your proxy, or program or project manager as appropriate – especially with regard to things that cut across others’ areas of responsibility. This is not about doing the work, but assembling resources, coordinating, and working behind the scenes to enable others to do the work. Let’s clarify some definitions:
- “Priorities” include ongoing strategic, organizational and operational processes and the one or two critical long-term initiatives you choose to own yourself. In either case, COS gives you resource and coordination leverage.
- “Programs” are the main longer-term components of those priorities, generally tracked and managed monthly.
- “Projects” are the sub-components of programs, generally tracked and managed weekly.
- “Tasks” are the actual work that rolls up into projects, programs and priorities. These are generally tracked and managed at least daily by front-line supervisors.
An effective chief of staff will bring issues and opportunities to your attention as appropriately gathered in conversations, emails, tweets, blogs, etc. They also help you think through and implement your message and communication efforts.
This is a non-trivial task. Everything communicates – everything you do and say and don’t do and don’t say and the order in which you say or do it. Your chief of staff has to be able to challenge you and re-direct or sharpen the thinking behind your communication.
Levels of Delegation
1. Do self well
2. Do self well enough
3. Delegate and manage
4. Delegate and not manage
5. Do later
6. Do never
With this in mind, your chief of staff should help you assign levels to things, assist you on level 1 and 2 priorities as much as possible, and own all level 3-6 priorities so you can focus your best thinking on level 1 things.
Your chief of staff should ensure there is an agenda for every meeting or call in which you are involved. While meetings run the gambit from simple to complex, every agenda should include:
- The objective of the meeting.
- Meeting timing and methodology (live, video, audio.)
- What you are being asked to do in the meeting (decide, contribute, learn.)
- Meeting attendees, their role in the meeting by agenda item (decide, contribute, learn,) and anything new you should know about their ability to decide, contribute or learn.
- Prereads for you and attendees to digest in advance to help you decide, contribute or learn.