The role of an Executive Assistant (EA) and a Junior Chief of Staff (JCOS) may seem similar on paper, but they are different.
Both positions involve supporting high-level executives and coordinating various tasks and projects. But the responsibilities and scope of these roles can be very different when the rubber meets the road. Transitioning from EA to JCOS can be a huge step up in your career. I've done it and can certainly offer an "Amen."
As an EA, your primary focus is often supporting one or more executives, involving tasks like calendaring, managing correspondence, coordinating travel, expense reporting, and managing your executive's life and brand. You may also be responsible for managing projects and completing tasks on behalf of the executive, such as conducting research, preparing presentations, and coordinating Board activities.
A JCOS, on the other hand, plays a more strategic role within an organization. While you may still be responsible for some of the same tasks as an EA, your primary focus as a JCOS is on helping the executive team achieve the company's long-term goals. This could mean working closely with other departments and teams, analyzing data and making suggestions, and helping to implement company-wide initiatives.
Here are a few key steps to consider:
Build your skills and experience. As an EA, you likely have a pretty comprehensive skill set gleaned from years of working in numerous industries that will be quite useful in a JCOS role, specifically organization chops, attention to detail, and the ability to handle and prioritize multiple tasks. However, there are a few key skills and core competencies that are particularly important for a JCOS to have, such as strategic thinking, data analysis, and project management. As part of your transition, consider taking on additional responsibilities and or seeking out opportunities for professional development to build these skills. I find that joining professional communities like EA(3x) or other EA and Chief of Staff groups puts you in the room with others who are already successful in the role or at least as passionate as you are to offer advice, support, and those invaluable tips and tricks that help you keep the train moving effortlessly down the track.
Network and build relationships. As a JCOS, you will be working closely with a variety of people and teams within the organization, from the janitor to the CEO. Building strong relationships and networking effectively with all levels within the organization can be key to your success in the role. An essential part of your professional development and managing your own brand is to attend industry events, join relevant professional organizations, and seek out mentorship opportunities to build your network and make connections within and beyond your company.
Be proactive and take initiative. As an EA, it's common practice to wait for instructions and tasks from your executive. However, as a JCOS, it's exactly the opposite. You will need to be proactive and take initiative in identifying problems and proposing solutions. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to take on additional responsibilities and make an impact within the organization.
When I recently joined my company, my goal was to get as in-depth an understanding of the business as possible. Since we're an organization that focuses on emotional health and provides direct services to citizens of New York City one of my main objectives was to visit each of the programs myself. As a Chief of Staff, especially in larger organizations, you often have to maintain what I like to call "Switzerland Status." While you are a member of the leadership team on paper and in practice, there is often a perception of status and unapproachability associated with being a C-suite member. This often results in people in other parts of the org dismissing you as one of them, especially if there's any version of an us/them hierarchal dynamic. I quickly understood that this perception existed within the ranks, and I wanted no part in perpetuating it.
I booked a week-long stay in NYC and scheduled face-to-face meetings with all of the program directors. No fanfare. No entourage. As such, I was able to show up humbly and eager to hear all the things that could never be said in a room full of muckety mucks. And I did. I was able to observe where my C-suite wasn't walking their talk, hear of the numerous pain points caused by archaic and inefficient processes, and see with my own eyes where I could quickly be of service by leveraging my position.
TL; DR, I saw kids in our programs wearing numerous sweaters to combat the cold during an unseasonably chilly week. Upon meeting with one of our youth program directors, I found that they were having to turn away kids interested in joining their after-school programs because of a lack of available computers.
On my Uber ride back to the hotel, I reached out to my network, even right here on LinkedIn, to see if I could call in some favors for these kids. I also went to my CEO and CFO to break off some change to purchase new winter coats for all of the kids in the programs. Thanks to the generosity of amazing companies like Nowsta, Amazon, and Replit, I was able to score some lightly used laptops freed up by all these layoffs in the news for the youth programs and spearhead an initiative to help teach these kids how to code and literally take their destiny into their own hands.
As a Chief of Staff, I often leverage the FITFO and empathetic mindset of an Executive Assistant. This mindset and execution supersede the title. It's simply about being human, putting boots on the ground, listening with intention, and making shit happen. Essentially, what Executive Assistants do every day on behalf of their executives.
Communicate effectively. As a JCOS, you will be responsible for communicating with people at every level across the organization. Your success in the role will depend a lot on how well you can communicate, especially how well you can explain and implement your ideas and give information in a clear and concise way, backed up by data and logic instead of opinion and hearsay.
Understand the company's goals and strategy. This is critical! It's important to have a clear understanding of the company's strategy and priorities, as well as the specific goals of the executive team. Even more important is your ability to articulate these goals to every level of the organization. It is critical to stay current on industry trends, internal chatter, and be aware of any changes or challenges facing the company.
Making the transition from EA to JCOS can be a challenging but incredibly rewarding career move. By building your skills, networking, building relationships, taking initiative, communicating effectively, and understanding the company's goals and strategy, you can position yourself to make this transition a reality and achieve a whole new level of success and impact in this role.
I'll also say this, so listen up.
AI is here, kids. If you're an EA not in the C-suite you should be quaking in your boots. I've warned of this for years in the 130+ articles I've written on this platform. Please don't delude yourself (or allow others to) into thinking that the EA role will never be replaced. Sure, at higher levels, no time soon. But I can confidently say that 85% of the tasks that EAs are doing right now can be accomplished by an AI bot. I know. I use them daily. What's saving EA jobs right now is the inefficiencies in processes and the inflexibility and resistance to change in the companies where they work.
If I were to build my dream company (or create a consultancy that does...stay tuned), there would only be two EAs at a maximum, a Chief of Staff, and a whole suite of AI bots overseeing all administration and operations for the company. Lower-level EA roles wouldn't exist because bots are already doing the work, getting even better at it, and becoming more "human" in their execution every day.
It is imperative that EAs not only look beyond the role but also start up-leveling their skills and core competencies to transition into Chiefs of Staff. The fact that this role is all over LinkedIn should be absorbed as a loud, foul-mouthed, harbinger of what's to come. Most EAs continue to languish in this weird nebulous of hollow awards, meaningless acronyms, and delusions of irreplaceability. If the relentless rounds of EA layoffs didn't shake you to your core, I simply can't help you, and you should unfollow me tout de suite.
Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.