Chief of Staff to the Executive or Chief of Staff to the Organization?

As Chief of Staff, your job is to be the right-hand of an executive. You help them work more efficiently to execute their vision to move the organization forward. But what if there is a disconnect between your leader and the organization, then where do your allegiances lie?

We asked several Chiefs of Staff this question. Most of their answers boiled down to this: A strong leader serves the needs of the organization, thus making it your role as Chief of Staff to support the leader. But if you are working for an ineffective leader, or one who is out of touch with the organization, it is your job to be the bridge. You can help them better serve the organization by creating connections to the pulse of the company.  

Learn from real Chiefs of Staff who have navigated this situation before:

IT DEPENDS ON THE LEADER

If I answered this after my first role, I would have definitely said that I believed I was COS to the CEO.  He was a very strong leader and the organization ran like a well-oiled machine under his direction.  Much of what I did was help carry out his visions, support him, and help him do his job more efficiently and effectively.  While I led many projects, my job was not to be a visible leader within in the company, I worked much more behind the scenes.  I was loyal to him because I trusted him. He put me in incredible situations to learn, and while he didn’t always verbalize it, he had a plan for me.

However, in my current role I feel that I am COS to the organization. The leadership and culture are not nearly as strong. There is not always a clear vision, and often there is a disconnect between the executives and the employees. My role has organically developed into more of a position of leadership. Because I’ve proven to be reliable, accessible, and will listen and follow-up, employees come to me with issues and work updates. I do not think there is alignment between the executives and the rest of the organization, so I’ve tried to improve that…I put people in meetings together so that the appropriate people are aware of certain issues; I try to bridge the gaps and get people better aligned. I truly believe leadership and culture start at the top so I am trying to do my little part of setting a tone for the rest of the employees. 

YOU WORK FOR BOTH

I think [you support] both. You must translate things to the organization and work within it, but your partner is the executive you support. You navigate the organization for them and keep them up to date on the temperature of the culture. You have to make it feel like both in the Chief of Staff role.

EVERYONE SHOULD BE ALIGNED WITH THE ORGANIZATION

I think your allegiance should be more to the organization. What’s best for the executive themselves is to have a stronger allegiance to the organization. Ultimately, they want to train the Chiefs of Staff to take on other roles. If the COS is always under the executive, it may not foster a career growth path or push them to be their own leader. That doesn’t help when it’s time for succession planning.

PROTECT THE COMPANY

I had three executives turn over in one role in a short period of time. There was a lot going on and they weren’t working to improve the organization. You have to know what is right and wrong, and speak up when you see something bad happening. There was one instance where an executive would set people up to fail. It was toxic, and it wasn’t good for the organization. I expressed my concerns and the leadership team spoke about removing that person. As a Chief of Staff, you shouldn’t sit down when someone isn’t properly leading the organization.

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While every situation is different, Chiefs of Staff always play an important role in monitoring the culture and keeping leadership connected to the organization.

Tell us your thoughts in the comments below: Does the COS work for the executive or for the organization?