There are a few different flavors of “Chief of Staff” that have a clear value proposition and yet manifest differently. They may already exist in your organization and are cloaked under different titles such as: program manager, Chief of Staff, COO, Deputy, CAO.
The below list of different ‘flavors’ of CoS is based on my first hand experience and research (yes, research) into this evolving role:
1. GSD (Get Sh*t Done) — This person is the best friggin’ executer in the universe and yet people still like them when it’s done)
2. Front Man — They can deal with all the people and they like it and god bless them. And they’re good at it too.
3. Successor — A serious incident is happening, this person could run it equally as well across all fronts as me. Or close. And when I leave they should take over)
4. Business Manager — Can someone please do the budgets and the recruiting and the vendor management and the legal contract reviews and the QBRs and OKRs and SBARs and Kanban boards and Jiras and my brain is exploding in business management terminology.
5. BBB (beers, brains, boards, behind the scenes). Pause.
This is the real deal chief of staff. This is the person you want to have beers with and debrief from the day with. It’s the person you would have family bbq with. They are the ones who you share brain power with. They are the person who fuels your geeky tank. Because they challenge you or inspire you or solve together with you. It just happens. And they know just what to say and how to say it to the boards and execs and regulators and whoever the f*ck else. Sometimes they do it. But sometimes they give me the winning words. This person:
Sees around the corner — they anticipate what is going to be needed. They know what you will be asked for, they understand timing and requests and risks, and people and corporate opportunities and responsibilities.
Protects the person in charge from themselves — This person has your best interest in mind. It’s also why they are someone you can share honestly with and someone who you will listen to. They know you for your strengths and accept you for your challenges, and they fill in the gaps in a way that adds to your strength.
This is the person who doesn’t want your job because after all, they already have the best job in the world, they are a Chief of Staff.
Across each of those paradigms (regardless of how you may mix and match them), the most important traits of a good candidate are the same and seem to transcend corporate titles.
Chemistry + Commitment
Chemistry — You know it when you have it. But you may not know you don’t have it. Because things work.
Commitment — They are in it together with you. And you know when they aren’t in it, or when you aren’t in it, or when it’s ok to transition.