Exponential Growth: My Years as Chief of Staff
By Trishia Lichauco, Prime Chief of Staff Coach
The Chief of Staff is undeniably a leadership role. In fact, it is an excellent platform from which skills can be developed and careers advanced. There is tremendous opportunity to grow through practice, emulation, trial and error (prudently, of course) and role modeling.
From my own experience, the Chief of Staff role is one of the most enjoyable ones I have held. I used to fondly call myself the “chief of stuff” when I served two presidents. Oddly enough, I reveled in this endearment as I was proud to be a willing resource. I took great pride in having the Office of the President as the place on which people in these organizations could rely.
My role was crucial as it served as the pulse for my presidents, staying keen and in touch with the variety of initiatives and layers of complexity at any given time. Remaining an advocate for his/her vision and the organizations’ missions was paramount to my success. Holding this office bore a great responsibility for their advancement. The COS has access to much wealth – I had information, resources and influence.
The influence of the COS can be underrated and underestimated as his/her primary job is to ensure the success of the leader. I remember wondering where I would fit in and how. From the simple to the sublime, the trite to the triumphant, I was involved in one space or another. In each of these situations, I was able to have a view or take on a task to represent my presidents’ participation and interest. I also commanded my presidents’ attention.
When I was new at it, I was very naïve and inexperienced, let alone, quite terrified. My president gave me the gift of an executive coach who walked me through my green stages and who, as an objective listener, gave me the space to process my growth. I was like a sponge where I absorbed every morsel of learning from every encounter. Overwhelming at first, the investment in this time to build a strong foundation was well worth it. The basics I called on were my values of integrity, ethics, service and love. Without these and many other unnamed principles by which I live, I would not have been able to maintain my identity. My interpretation of this role was very much in line with my nature – it had to be!
The role also taught me an important lesson: Be a leader of your own life first.
How does this happen? In addition to understanding your authenticity through your value system, what other ways can you help yourself to ensure that you remain on the top of your priority list?
Make sure you have a support system outside of work. They may not know what you do exactly, but they can listen and provide stability.
Build a small network of trusted colleagues and alliances at work. When you first get your job, get to know as many people as possible and then choose those who you can trust and to whom you can run in good and in bad times.
Don’t fear the unknown. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Be zealous about obtaining answers by asking many questions. Tread unfamiliar territory by gathering guts and resilience. Look at the unknown as a surprise.
Keep things in perspective. In the beginning, every little detail may seem to be problematic. Understand the expectations of you. Seek clarity for the priorities and become familiar with how to address them.
Read your audience. Learn the vernacular and the culture. Study the organization’s history. Be an archeologist – go digging then listen, listen, listen.
Be mindful of your needs. When you are feeling too exhausted or imbalanced, be with people you love, read a novel, binge on your favorite foods, take a few deep breaths.
The Chief of Staff role is one of the most unique positions in an organization. With it is the privilege to serve a leader and serve as a leader—to have a voice at the decision-making table, to become involved in the strategic and tactical and to advance a mission through personal integrity.