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The History & Future of the Chief of Staff Role

Eddie Wang
Sep 1, 2023
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Over the course of this article, we’ll take a close look at the history and future of the Chief of Staff role, exploring its origins, evolution, and its potential trajectory in an ever-changing landscape where the speed and quality of one’s decision making and communications matters more and more.
Chief of Staff

In both government and corporate spheres, the role of the Chief of Staff has evolved over time to serve as a key orchestrator of operations, communication, and strategic direction. 

Over the course of this article, we’ll take a close look at the history and future of the Chief of Staff role, exploring its origins, evolution, and its potential trajectory in an ever-changing landscape where the speed and quality of one’s decision making and communications matters more and more.

Historical Development of the Chief of Staff Role

The Chief of Staff role finds its roots in traditional military command structures. There, the term Chief of Staff was first used to signify an officer who was responsible for coordinating military operations, managing logistics, and advising commanding officers. 

While the military usage of this term has now evolved to include the head of a branch of military in certain contexts (e.g. Joint Chiefs of Staff), the primary understanding of the role continues to be that of a trusted advisor (e.g. Joint Chiefs of Staff advising Secretary of Defense & President). 

This pivotal military role laid the foundation for its later adaptation in various sectors. As governments evolved, the Chief of Staff role transitioned from the battlefield to the political arena - which some would say is its own battlefield altogether! This shift was notable during the early 20th century when key historical figures like H.R. Haldeman under President Nixon and Rahm Emanuel under President Obama played vital roles in shaping governmental operations.

Their influence demonstrated how the Chief of Staff could become a key strategic advisor to leaders. Later, Rahm Emanuel went on to serve as the Mayor of Chicago revealing how the kinds of managerial qualities needed to serve as a trusted advisor to the President were clear marks of leadership capacity on their own merits.

In today’s business world, the Chief of Staff has become an increasingly common fixture among executive teams. Just as a Chief of Staff is an essential aid to a President who has unceasing demands for time and decision-making, Chiefs of Staff are critical for corporate leaders tasked with running divisions that may number into the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands.

While distinct from its governmental counterpart, the corporate Chief of Staff role shares a common thread of overseeing communication, fostering collaboration, and ensuring effective execution of strategies. In this capacity, they serve as a key bridge between C-Suite vision and actual everyday execution.

The Future of the Chief of Staff Role

As the speed of communication continues to increase in a digital world and everyday individuals must increasingly process copious amounts of information, the need for Chiefs of Staff has only increased. Unfortunately, labor shortages and the high cost of human support necessitate that only CEOs and executives can reasonably expect to have a fully dedicated human Chief of Staff.

For the everyday worker, the work week remains a challenging grind with increasing meetings, responsibilities, and software systems to manage. The average corporate worker now has 62 meetings in a given month with executives averaging 23 hours of meetings per week (Golden Steps). Not only is efficiently scheduling these meetings a considerable productivity drag, but even remembering key meeting decisions as well as acting upon meeting follow-up action items can be exceptionally challenging.

In order to meet all these complex challenges, we expect to see a number of changes in the coming years:

  1. EA => Chiefs of Staff - As the perceived value of a Chief of Staff only continues to grow, Administrative Assistants and Executive Assistants are increasingly positioning themselves as Chiefs of Staffs to demonstrate the higher level strategic thinking and execution capabilities they possess (Phoenix Normand, 2022). The ability to handle complex project management and take a strategic initiative from inception to conclusion is invaluable.
  2. The AI Chief of Staff - Meaningful leaps in AI’s natural language processing has created a new pathway for AI Chiefs of Staff to accurately understand and execute upon intent (e.g. schedule a meeting with Tony next week). Just as word docs first became an industry standard for lawyers and spreadsheets for accountants, we expect AI Chief of Staff software to become ubiquitous in corporate environments - allowing users to receive support across everyday tasks like scheduling, note taking, and calendar management. 

How to take action on supporting your team

While the Chief of Staff role has continued to evolve over time, the core principle remains the same: providing high level support for leaders so that they can focus on doing their best work. Savvy business leaders will need to consider how to do the same to ensure that they are maximizing the productive talents and job satisfaction well-being of their labor force.

To give just one extreme example, Netflix pays their AI experts upwards of $900,000 per year (PCMag, 2023). How can companies make sure that their compensation is well-deserved? By freeing these experts from the tedious admin work that can suck up up to ⅓ of the working year (Business Wire, 2017).

Whether you can afford to hire like Netflix or not, your team member deserves the best possible support to do and be their best. For C-Suite leaders at larger companies, that may mean hiring a few high level Chiefs of Staff capable of turning strategy into action and managing entire teams across cross-functional initiatives. For everyone else, that may mean investing in AI Chief of Staff software to ensure that team members receive adequate support across the most draining time savers.

With an AI Chief of Staff to handle scheduling requests across Slack and email, a personal note taker to capture key decisions and action items, and a priority manager to manage and maximize calendars, your team members can experience the future of the assisted corporate workday.

To get started today, visit Life is better with help - a lot better!

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