The role of chief of staff (CO) is a highly influential position in large, complex organizations that require drastic strategic, operational and cultural changes. As a CO, you will be exposed to the professional life of a busy executive and the day-to-day operations and initiatives that they oversee. With the variety of responsibilities and versatility you have, it can be difficult to define the right position after completing your CoS term. However, you can use your long list of responsibilities, skills, experience and accomplishments to position yourself for various subsequent positions.
The three positions, executive assistant, chief of staff and chief of operations, are valuable members of the senior management team. In addition to developing an executive mindset, the role of chief of staff helps you learn how companies actually work. For example, you could start with a position such as president, move to a position such as president & chief operating officer, and finally end up with the title of president & chief operating officer. If you have built the right portfolio in a growing organization, you should learn quickly and take on higher levels of responsibility every quarter.
As chief of staff, you are likely used to attending board meetings, organizing senior leadership team meetings, and having access and exposure to a wide range of information. Chiefs of staff are overrepresented at the highest levels of the Fortune 500, the military and politics. When exploring career paths 6 or 7 years ago, I looked into executive assistant, chief of staff and chief of operations (COO). While a vice president is one step away from the C-level team and a senior director is two steps away from the C-level team, the exposure that the senior director has to the C-level team is disproportionately less than what the distance between roles might entail. As a self-taught chief of staff who works with other small business owners and entrepreneurs, coaches and advises them, it's a real problem when they only have the budget for one hire but aren't sure if they're looking for a COS, an EA or a director of operations (and many want all three in one person).
The position of chief of staff is becoming increasingly popular in the startup world after decades of being a common practice in the military, politics and Fortune 500 companies. The chief of staff is typically under the direction of a C-level executive and is responsible for planning, analyzing and maintaining almost all financial and operational activities. The role can be challenging but can also be an immensely rewarding and transformative experience. Outstanding performance in this role for 2 or 3 years can accelerate your career significantly, especially if you move to a new position within your organization. Once someone leaves this position, it takes several months for their colleagues to figure out how to work together without guidance from the chief of staff. The possibility of staying in the company may be accompanied by certain conditions that could lead to being labeled as an “eternal chief of staff”.