While many see the Chief of Staff role as a key stepping stone to the C-Suite or starting a company, there’s less information out there about how to best prepare to get a Chief of Staff role in the first place. And while the majority of Chiefs may still come from the ranks of bankers and consultants, I’d encourage both CEOs and aspiring Chiefs to look at a different up-and-coming discipline as an amazing way to prepare for the CoS role: community management.
Now hold on a minute, you might say, does the work of a right hand to a CEO really have that much in common with a position that, until recently, has been seen as the realm of do-gooders, hobbyists, and social media managers? Those folks are valuable, but can they do the high-level, strategic work of a CoS?
If you look at the Chief of Staff leveling framework, similarities between the two roles immediately jump out at you:
Operating with independence
Community Managers, while naturally collaborative, are often teams of one within their organizations. They’re very used to operating independently.
Whether it’s creating a new way for members to connect or running an event series, community managers constantly scope new projects, implement processes, and manage operations-heavy projects to completion.
Communication is most community managers’ middle name (probably not literally - that might be strange). Chiefs of Staff manage internal and external stakeholders constantly, often relying on influence rather than authority. Community Managers do the same thing.
Holistic view of the organization
One of the most important things for Chiefs to learn is how to see the company like their Principals. Community Managers often serve as a quasi-CEO of their community, determining its strategic direction, working with internal champions, and intuiting what the community’s reaction to a new announcement,initiative, or product offering might be. They’d be well positioned to keep their finger on the pulse of a company in the same way.
There are some areas where Community Managers may have less training than your typical ex-banker or ex-consultant - creating decks, working with Excel, or looking at company financials come to mind - but those skills can be learned or can often be found elsewhere in an organization.
So, if you’re a CEO looking for a Chief of Staff, keep Community Managers in mind as you start your search. And if you’re charting your path to the C-Suite, you could do a lot worse than starting out as a Community Manager. As more and more people and companies recognize the value of communities, your options may just end up being better than someone who used to work at McKinsey.
If you’re interested in a great Community Manager role, the Chief of Staff Network is hiring NOW! Check out the job description here and get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re interested in Chief of Staff jobs, check out the CoSN job board here!