Chief of Staff Spotlight: Nouha Shwehdi
What is a Chief of Staff and what do they do? There's no one better to ask than the Chiefs themselves. In this series, we talk with current and former Chiefs of Staff about their role as well as their personal motivations and secrets to performing it well.
Name: Nouha Shwehdi
Location: Chicago, IL
Title: Chief of Staff
Employer: After School Matters
Industry: Non-profit, youth development
Years in position: July 2015-December 2017
Tell us more about the responsibilities of your position.
I managed all support to our Board of Directors and Advisory Board, served as the organization’s primary liaison to the Mayor’s Office of the City Chicago, and oversaw ASM’s portfolio of citywide special initiatives including new strategic partnerships with corporate and anchor institutions. I also oversaw strategic alignment with the organization’s core program operations that impact the academic achievement of tens of thousands of Chicago teens each year.
What was the overall “mission” of your role?
Project development and management
Board support and management
New community partnership development
Managing complex projects and situations
How did you find this opportunity?
It was a natural transition from my previous role at the organization as Manager of Special Projects.
How did your previous background help you in the role?
After earning my undergraduate degree in business, I went on to invest most of the first 10 years of my career working with school leadership and staff from 250+ schools in every community in Chicago to support academic enrichment and success. The knowledge I gained from this hands on experience with leaders has helped me evolve into the role of Chief of Staff.
What skills do you believe were most critical to your success in the role?
As a COS, I understand the requirements of the role. I know how to navigate the internal and external complexities with sensitivity. In my 11 years of work in and with schools, government, community based non-profits and corporations, I developed a skill for cultivating and executing partnerships. I’ve managed or supported capital projects, multi-year multi-million fund development campaigns and staffed a board of directors most of whom are Fortune 500 C-Suite officers. I believe an effective COS is comfortable spending most of their time out of the spotlight but never fears to confront a tough challenge or take decisive action.
What was the most challenging part of your job?
Balancing competing priorities.
What helped you establish trust and rapport with your executive? What was the key to a great fit with an executive?
I was the “right hand” of the CEO and direct board staff support for the Board Chair and understood the day-to-day requirements of the Chief of Staff position, including its complexities and sensitivities. Understanding and anticipating where the CEO was coming from really helped with the fit to the CEO.
How did you define success in your position?
I gained personal satisfaction in seeing leaders soar and enjoy the challenging work of turning sound ideas into great operations that make a real difference in the lives of vulnerable families and communities.
What advice would you give your successor or another COS?
Do not take challenges personally and keep focused on the successful outcome. Learn from mistakes and continuously improve the quality of your work and others around you.
Looking back, would you change anything about your time in the COS role?
Establish clarity with your CEO on responsibilities; especially administrative responsibilities.