Thursday, March 31, 2005

Chief of Staff Role (Part V) – Final Thoughts

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the leadership training provided by USN Captain Mike Abrashoff (Ret.), former skipper of the USS Benfold, a.k.a. “The Best Damn Ship in the Navy.” This morning I was reading his insightful first book: “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.” Early in his career, Abrashoff served as an Admiral’s aide in Subic Bay, Philippines. One of his statements from page 22 jumped out at me:

“I was twenty-five years old at the time, and most twenty-five-year-olds don’t get the opportunity to see how the organization runs at a senior level. It was good training, which businesses could give their up-and-coming young people by making them executive assistants to the top officers.”

Capt. Abrashoff uses the term “executive assistants,” but in context, it is clear that he is really talking about the Chief of Staff role as I have been discussing it in this series. His comments almost exactly echo the words of James Quigley, CEO of Deloitte & Touche – words that I quoted as I opened this series several weeks ago:

“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 dreaming about. In addition, I was mentored, coached and stretched by visual leaders who gave me opportunities to prove what I was capable of doing.”

The message is pretty clear. A number of young leaders with extraordinary leadership potential have been encouraged in the development and deployment of these leadership gifts by being given the opportunity to function in the role of Chief of Staff, XO, or whatever term that organization may choose to put on a role that services as a ”force multiplier” in support of a C-level executive. When structured correctly, a Chief of Staff role provides a triple win:

The CEO wins because he is freed up to be able to concentrate his time, effort and priorities on strategic initiatives. He is empowered to “keep the main thing the main thing”!

The organization wins because its leader is leading more effectively and the COS role is adding to succession planning by attracting, grooming and retaining an unusually gifted up-and-coming leader.

The Chief of Staff wins because his/her career trajectory is raised and he/she is able to make a major contribution while being mentored and groomed by a seasoned leader.

Ed Cusati, one of the regular readers of this Blog, responded to the most recent COS posting by offering a flow diagram that depicts the balance between concerns over the potential upside and downside of adding a COS into the organizational mix. (Due to the technical limitations of this Blogster, I am not able to reproduce the diagram in this space, but it will be included in an upcoming White Paper!) Ed’s diagram points out the complex interactions among all of the stakeholders that must be taken into consideration in creating within an organization a Chief of Staff role. The CEO, the CEO's Direct Reports and the COS candidate must all – from their own vantage point - wrestle with the potential objections and benefits of creating a Chief of Staff role.

Where do we go from here with regard to this discussion? I plan to digest the material from this series and the feedback I have received into a White Paper on the role of a Chief of Staff. Through the amazing network of relationships I have been blessed to develop with some extraordinary men and women, I have access to an unmatched pool of potential Chiefs of Staff. It occurs to me that because of this rare access to a unique talent pool, and because of my awareness of the effectiveness of a properly deployed Chief of Staff, the role of evangelist for the COS role has been thrust upon me. I am pleased to accept that role, but I'll need some help.

So, how can we help each other to move things forward?

I would welcome an opportunity to enter into conversations with companies that you know or suspect could benefit from a Chief of Staff. In a situation in which the role has already been utilized in the company, I would like to be in a position to help that company to identify and to hire the next person to fill the role. In the case of a company that is just beginning to consider creating such a role, I would welcome a chance to come in and consult with the strategic leaders to define the role, and then to help the company to fill that role with their first COS.

Please let me know if you would like to receive a copy of the White Paper. I would appreciate your efforts in helping me to evangelize for the expansion of the role of the COS within corporate America.

As always, I welcome your feedback and comments.


Anonymous said...

As a 24 year old, I could think of nothing better for my career than to be exposed, mentored, and challenged by senior staff at a company. The leader, freed from his more mundane tasks by the COS, could utilize his time more efficiently. I see no better job for a young ambitious person.
Al, you are always coming up with great ideas.

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