Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Chief of Staff – A Force Multiplier!

Last year, I attended a symposium sponsored by the Boston University School Management. The two keynote speakers were Lee Iacocca and James Quigley, CEO of Deloitte & Touche. In preparation for hearing Mr. Quigley speak, I read his bio printed in the conference program. What jumped out at me immediately was the fact that early in his career with D&T Quigley has served in the role of Chief of Staff in the Office of the Chairman.

I had already begun to be intrigued with the role of Chief of Staff – a role I am convinced is under-utilized in the business world. Since many of the candidates I place are military veterans, through learning of their careers, I have become familiar with the military functional role of the XO – Executive Officer. The Navy’s Command Leadership School in Newport, RI devotes an entire course to training XO’s to function in their role as “Second in Command.” A friend of mine, a West Point graduate and Desert Storm combat veteran, recently spent several years as Chief of Staff supporting the Chairman of the Board of a Fortune 100 Company. My friend calls the role of the Chief of Staff a “force multiplier.” Properly deployed, a good Chief of Staff can exponentially magnify the effective of the C-level executive he or she is supporting. Yet I find that it is the rare company that employees a Chief of Staff. Even more rare is the corporation that has a Chief of Staff and utilizes that person and that role to full effect.

During the course of the BU Symposium, I had several opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with Mr. Quigley, and to query him on his background as a former Chief of Staff. In answer to my question about his retrospective look at his early role as Chief of Staff, the gist of his answer could best be summarized as follows:

“I am not sure I would be where I am today if I had not been given that extraordinary opportunity early in my career. I was rubbing shoulders on a daily basis with all of the strategic decision makers in the company. I was exposed to ideas, challenges, responsibilities and opportunities that most people at my age and at my stage of career never dream about. In addition, I was mentored, coached and stretched by visionary leaders who gave me opportunities to prove what I was capable of doing.”

I was interested in testing out whether, in his current role as CEO at Deloitte & Touche, Quigley still held as high a view of the role of Chief of Staff as he had early in his career. In my last meeting with him that day, I asked: “Do you currently have someone serving in the capacity of Chief of Staff in support of you?”

Quigley answered: “No; I have three different persons in that role, each one providing invaluable support in a specific area of tracking strategic initiatives.”

There is the proof of the pudding!

In my next posting, I will discuss the specific duties that a good Chief of Staff should be able to perform, and the ideal background of a person tasked with these responsibilities.

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