Thursday, January 14, 2010
Latest CEO Accessory
Fortune published an article this week titled, "Latest CEO Accessory: A Chief of Staff." Writers Beth Kowitt and Alyssa Abkowitz explain that more CEOs have hired someone to fill the role of chief of staff, a position traditionally found in politics, but not often in business. The article mostly extols the benefits to CEOs of having someone in this role. Surely, a chief of staff may bring benefits, particularly as the leader's "confidential sounding board" as the article mentions. However, I think the article misses out on the potential negative aspects putting someone in this role. A chief of staff becomes a powerful filter of information, and at times, that can be harmful. The chief of staff may shield the leader from communicating directly and often with key people at lower levels, and may actually filter out bad news that the leader should hear. The gatekeeper function bestows a great deal of power on an individual. Some individuals, unfortunately, choose to abuse that power to advance their agendas. Many times, though, the chief of staff may simply filter out critical information without any nefarious intentions. They are trying to help the chief executive manage their busy schedule, and in so doing, they package and streamline information flowing to the top. However, they may be contributing to an increasing isolation of the CEO from the rest of the organization.