Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Chief of Staff - A Force Multiplier (Part IV)

In my last posting describing my views of the Chief of Staff role, I offered a summary of the professional characteristics, functional skills and personal traits that are required of a stellar Chief of Staff.

In today’s discussion of the Chief of Staff role, I would like to answer the question we left hanging when we signed off last week: "Where do we find such men [and women]?"

From my experience as an executive recruiter, I can point to three primary sources where I have been able to discover individuals who possess the panoply of skills, traits and characteristic that are the hallmark of a great Chief of Staff:

1) Military officers who have retired after a full career

2) Junior military officers who have 5-10 years of leadership experience leavened with a top-tier MBA to add business sense and analytical tools to their arsenal.

3) Mature veterans of the “corporate battlefield” who have amassed knowledge, judgment, diplomacy and project management skills over the course of a broad-based business career.

Before describing in detail these three pools of potential Chiefs of Staff, let me offer the observation that the role of COS can be structured in two primary ways:

a) As a role that the candidate would fill on a long-term basis – 5-10 years or more. In this scenario, the COS sees himself/herself as a “Career XO” – a person who is content to remain in a strategically important behind the scenes role in support of a C-level executive.

b) As a transitional role that is part of an overall approach to succession planning. In this scenario, the COS serves for 2-3 years in a strategic support role with the understanding that at the end of that term of service, she/he will be given a general management role with P&L responsibility – Division President, Brand Manager, etc. During the final year in the COS role, there would be a period of overlap – selecting, training and transitioning in a new COS to carry on seamlessly the support functions.

Now, back to the three pools of candidates . . .

1) Military officers who have retired after a full career

This type of candidate fits best in the long term COS role. For many men and women who have served our nation for 20 years or more, they still desire to make a contribution and build a fulfilling second career that will leverage the depth of experiences and breadth of skills they have acquired in leading troops and running programs. For the officer who is temperamentally fitted for the COS role, fancy job titles and an opportunity for climbing up the corporate ladder are not priorities. Having succeeded in being promoted consistently over the course of a distinguished military career, this candidate possess finely honed project management skills, communication skills, sophisticated diplomatic sensibilities and the ability to fully utilize to the company’s advantage both the formal and the informal power structures.

2) Junior military officers who have 5-10 years of leadership experience leavened with a top-tier MBA to add business sense and analytical tools to their arsenal.

Let me offer a composite description of a typical candidate in this category. This person is best-suited for the transition role – serving 2-3 years as COS before ascending to a GM role:

· Graduate of United State Naval Academy, US Marine Corps military intelligence officer whose assignments included a stint supporting Gen. Wesley Clark in his role as Commander of NATO And US forces in Europe. MBA from MIT Sloan School of business, summer internship and two-year stint as a strategy consultant in the Boston office of Bain & Co.

This “young Turk” is just the kind of leader that a visionary company would want to attract, develop and “fast track” into a senior position. This extraordinarily gifted and precocious top-achiever will not be attracted to or sufficiently challenged by most rotational training programs designed to groom future leaders, but would thrive in a properly conceived COS role in support of a mentoring C-level executive.


3) Mature veterans of the “corporate battlefield” who have amassed knowledge, judgment, diplomacy and project management skills over the course of a broad-based business career.

Once again, let me offer a description of a composite candidate from this pool:

BA from Columbia, MBA or continuing education programs from Stern School of Business at NYU. Over the years, functional roles have includes Director of Sales and Marketing, Director of Business development, Program Manager/Project Manager for mission-critical initiatives, Managing Director Client services.

Because of lifestyle choices, family situation, travel restrictions, etc., this gifted administrator and manager is happy to climb off of the treadmill leading to the top of the organizational chart, and spend the next 10+ years of her/his career leveraging a wealth of experience in support of a CEO, COB, CIO, COO, etc.

In the final installment dedicated to the role of the Chief of Staff, I will add some final thoughts and refinements, sum up the series, and make recommendations on ways to implement the creation and filling of the COS role with the right candidate.

Al Chase

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I believe that there was a critical factor not mentioned in the selection of a "Chief of Staff" (different organizations have different Titles). The CofS absolutely must have the respect and cooperation of the line managers who also report to the same manager/executive. In my experience, the CofS is selected from that group of line executives who has risen as a "prima inter pares" with his peers, which will allow him to act with effectiveness as (since I'm into the Latin) a quasi "in loco parentis" equivalent to the Chief. To be truly effective, his line peers must "like" him personally and respect his judgement. He, in turn, must be seem as trustworthy and unwilling to undercut his field peers

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