In this Chief of Staff Network member spotlight, you will learn from Abby Owens, the Chief of Staff at Queryon. You will learn how Abby has gone from Executive Assistant to Chief of Staff, the skills she has picked up along the way, and her advice for aspiring CoS.
Let’s get right into it!
Abby, how did you get into your current role?
I worked my way up! I originally joined my company as an Executive Assistant; I was highly organized, strategic, and thinking about the company as a whole. I worked as the CEO’s right hand but it became clear I was doing a lot more than the standard EA work, since I was serving as a thought partner along with keeping the CEO organized and on track.
I also had a unique opportunity previously where I was working as a fractional Chief of Staff for many startups in the tech space through a company called Double, which partners fractional CoS and EAs with busy founders.
What has been your biggest learning in your current role?
Balance! The Chief of staff role is complex and it’s defined differently across different organizations. There is a fine balance where you have to think about the entire company but your ultimate goal is to serve as the CEO’s right hand and act as a force multiplier. I have learned it's massively important to define the CoS role as it compares to other C-suite roles in the org and set your scope early on.
What advice would you give to someone looking for a CoS role?
Make sure there is a synergy between yourself and the CEO you will be supporting. I largely believe this role doesn’t work if you can’t form trust with the CEO. Be proactive and speak up!
I view the Chief of Staff role as a bit of an enablement role. My goal is to enable the executive I'm supporting to show up as their best self daily and to delegate down so that they can focus on what can't be delegated.
What were some of the key learnings or breakthroughs you had while working as a CoS?
- Strategic Thinking: Develop a strong ability to think strategically and understand the broader goals and objectives of your organization. This will enable you to align your efforts and prioritize tasks effectively!
- Relationship Building: Invest time and effort in building strong relationships with key stakeholders, both internally and externally. This includes executives, department heads, team members, and external partners. Building trust and rapport is crucial for effective collaboration and influence.
- Problem-Solving and Decision-Making: Develop strong problem-solving skills and the ability to make informed decisions quickly.
- Adaptability and Flexibility: Be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances and handle ambiguity. Organizations and priorities can shift rapidly, and your ability to remain flexible and adjust your plans accordingly will be vital.
What are you most focused on right now?
My current role has shifted and while I do still act as Chief of Staff I am also currently leading multiple external projects as well as skilling up to become more sales-focused. I'm constantly learning and growing and I think it's important to be somewhat of a "swiss army knife" when you're a Chief of Staff.
What have been the most challenging and rewarding parts of your CoS experience?
The most challenging has been kicking off the role without clear guidelines and separation from other C-suite stakeholders but the most rewarding has been the opportunity to grow, learn, to see and touch so many areas of a business.
What is the oddest task / project you've ever worked on?
At one point when I was still an Executive Assistant with a different organization my principal wanted me to send his daughter balloons for her birthday. However, she lived in a different state and he wanted to send very specific balloons he had purchased. To make matters more complicated, these balloons were already inflated with helium. He didn't want to use a balloon provider locally in his daughter’s state and was adamant we had to ship the balloons. Thus I had to go to UPS with roughly 10 inflated balloons and figure out how to ship them to his daughter so that the cost would be both economical but also so that they would arrive in time without deflating. Fortunately, I made it happen!
If you could wave a magic wand, with a wish for your role, what would they be?
I have two:
- I think the Chief of Staff role doesn't always have a clear growth path so that would be my first wish.
- I also feel the Chief of Staff role is still gaining popularity and a lot of organizations aren’t quite clear what value it could bring to the table so I would wish for more clarity in the industry for the role itself.
What’s something that you’re sneaky good at or that people wouldn’t expect about you?
I have a knack for remembering all sorts of things. This has proved very useful professionally, both in remote environments as well as in-person settings.
What’s the best professional advice that you’ve ever been given? Is there anything else you want to share?
You will mess up and that’s ok. Everyone messes up and we are only human.
The CEO in my current role always tells me this story anytime I make a mistake: the story is more or less about a pilot whose co-pilot misfuels the plane. They are about to take off and the pilot catches the mistake. This could have led to catastrophe; the co-pilot thought his career was over for sure due to this grave mistake. The co-pilot beat himself up and was disappointed in himself. However, the pilot simply tells the co-pilot: "you made a mistake, but I bet you won’t make the same mistake twice.”
Abby, thanks so much for sharing your insights! To chat directly with Abby, join the Chief of Staff Network!