Fortune has an article in its latest issue on the newest CEO accessory – a chief of staff. Some of the CEOs with office consigliores are Tim Armstrong (CEO, AOL), Tom McInerney (COO, ING), Paul Amos II (president and COO, Aflac) and Susan Lyne (CEO, Gilt Groupe). These chief of staffs serve as part advisors, gatekeepers and mountain movers. They get the jobs done that CEOs don’t have the time to do but would like to do if only they had the time. For corporate types, this is a whole new way of operating and perhaps a hard one to imagine here in the US. They are more common in Europe I believe.
I first learned about chiefs of staff at my previous employer. The CEO at the time was a political type and he and our COO each had chief of staffs. These attractive women (probably more common at the time) had super tough jobs managing the ins and outs of their bosses’ days – research on who was visiting, writing letters to clients and prospects, follow-up documentation, reviewing presentations, and making sure that things happened on time and as planned. They sat in on meetings and were endlessly busy and stressed out beyond belief. The women, however, were startling good at their jobs and I have to say utterly impressive. A few years later, I met another chief of staff when a new CEO arrived and again, this individual (a woman) was a powerhouse working several blackberries at once, scheduling every minute of the day and night for her boss, drafting emails and memos, deliberating at meetings, reviewing proposals and just being the surrogate spokesperson for the CEO when he was unavailable. She was the ultimate gatekeeper and in many ways, people interacted with her most of the time. As the Fortune article points out, these people become their bosses’ alter egos, mouthpieces and decision-makers because they know exactly what their bosses would want. There have been times when I have wondered why more CEOs don’t have chief of staffs to make companies run more smoothly and make them look efficient. In fact, for new CEOs, an assigned chief of staff who knows the company inside and out might not be a bad thing.
I do think that despite chief of staffs’ abilities to help build their CEOs’ reputations as good leaders, employees in the U.S. might look askance at this function. Employee grumblings would go like this — “Hey, can’t you do your own job? I don’t have anyone helping me. ” and “Isn’t that why you get paid the big bucks?” and “Who does he or she think they are – President Obama?” So despite its many benefits, chiefs of staff could be a hard sell on these shores.