Welp...I Did It.

Welp...I Did It.

Welp...I Did It.

It took approximately 10, 217 days...but friends, I'm officially a Chief of Staff!

And almost immediately after receiving the official title, I boarded a plane to the UK and immediately immersed myself in the most incredible, inaugural, globally-recognized, Chief of Staff certification programme at the eponymous (and pretty frickin' sweet) Oxford University, Saïd Business School. This was, by far, the best educational/professional cohort I've ever attended and I can't credit The Chief of Staff Association enough with creating and setting a bar so incredibly high for our group and all who follow. 12-14 hour immersive days solidified a fortitude and level attention akin to that required of a Chief of Staff every day. (Now, I get it @trentsmyth and @jeremycosta) Being surrounded by new and proven Chiefs of Staff from all walks of personal and professional life was invaluable. It may sound cheesy, but I'm pretty sure I've made some lifelong friends and snagged a new mentor or two this past week. Not even kidding.

What I've Learned

After being an EA for 28+ years and running my own business for 5+, I've never really known how I stack up as a Chief of Staff. I'm quite confident in my abilities as an Executive Assistant at the top of the profession. However, I've always seen Chiefs of Staff as this unicorn, typically a white, middle aged, male from a legacy university, with an MBA or doctorate, insanely developed chops in previous C-suites, and low-key unapproachable both personally and in wit-to-wit professional combat. Well, (luckily) that preconceived notion got blown to smithereens during this cohort. There were Chiefs of Staff in every color, every gender, and from all walks of professional life. While we were on a campus where royalty and rulers were educated and walked the same halls, I was incredibly impressed with the mix of traditional and rather progressive thinking and approaches. I definitely realized that flexibility of thought and execution are requirements of doing this role effectively. And, most importantly, it doesn't matter whence you come, but more that you "come correct" every day you engage in this role.

I left this cohort feeling an immense sense of validation for a few, specific reasons.

  1. The immense outpouring of love and support on my LinkedIn post announcing my title change. Easily my most viewed post to date. And I'm still humbled and amazed by the number of eyeballs who read my ramblings and usurp value of some sort.

  2. I fit in the room. I quite quickly validated that my years in the EA seat, years running my own business, and at least a decade of actually doing a majority of tasks associated with the Chief of Staff title allowed me a experiential relevance I hadn't quite anticipated and actually offer a perspective different from those who hadn't owned a business or had far less time in the C-suite.

  3. I proved exactly what I had set out to prove -- that insanely high-performing, confident EAs with advanced business acumen, years of C-suite exposure/experience, sick networks, and the respect and active support of their leaders can transition into this role.

Four Quotes That Stuck

During the week of events at the Chief of Staff Association certification programme we learned from some amazing professors and industry leaders and got the privilege of dining with and hearing from some incredible speakers from the highest levels of British government and business. During this immersion and knowing I'd eventually be taking to LinkedIn at some point to share my experience, I took note of anything I felt could be of value. Here are 4 simple quotes/advice about the Chief of Staff role that really stuck:

  1. "Always have diverse sources of self-esteem" - Sir Alex Younger (former MI6 Chief)

  2. "Humans don't react like a Gantt chart." Rupert Younger (Director, Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation, Saïd Business School and CoSA certification cohort leader)

  3. "Be good at beginnings and endings."

  4. "Don't be afraid of not doing things right." - Quotes 3 and 4 from Peter Hanke, Classical Music conductor and Saīd Business School Fellow

Of course there's a bit of context for each, but even on their own they encite contemplation.

Getting My *ss Handed to Me

Easily one of the most humbling but incredible experiences I've had as a business professional occurred on the last day of the programme. We attended a workshop at a beautiful chapel on the Oxford University campus replete with all the resplendence, stained glass, and acoustics typically associated with centuries-old chapel architecture.

The conductor, I'm convinced, was actually a psychologist masquerading as a chorale conductor. I watched this man put several of us in the conductor role, allow us to flounder, and reverse engineer each of our personalities in exacting detail based upon what he saw when we conducted. Being the wannabe Navy SEAL I am, I volunteered to go first. Here was my first attempt:


Sadly, no one captured the video of this man (in the sweetest way) rip me apart, call me power hungry, intimate narcissism, all but call me a control freak, and quite summarily tell me I was interested in making people do what I want them to do vs. allowing them to do what they do best and actually help me lead them. I won't lie, I was triggered. The younger me would probably have cursed this man for filth, walked out, and re-booked my return ticket home typing only with my middle fingers. But age teaches you not to react, but to listen and get the lesson. Plus, I'd been working on these things actively with my therapist for years so I knew they were present. So I relaxed my Sophia-from-Color-Purple balled up fist and allowed him to walk me through my physical mistakes but more importantly, my mindset as I conducted the singers, all industry veterans with incredible voices and equal amounts of patience.


Here's attempt #2 after the quick teardown/rebuild from the conductor: 


Several of us went through this exercise and the accuracy with which the conductor "clocked us" all in personality, intention, and deficiency was insane! A few of my fellow conductors had some of the most visceral epiphanies and reactions I've seen since attending a Tony Robbins live event. One brought several attendees to tears. One prompted a reaction so real and beautiful I knew that gent would be forever changed and that he and I would be friends for life.

In Conclusion

There is so much more I could say, but this programme is one better experienced in person. I was challenged to a breaking point in certain respects, which I loved! I've listened with a new intention and realized that decades of "fixing it" hasn't always been the best lesson or plan of action. I got to hang with military vets, government officials, right hands to CEOs in multi-billion dollar valuation companies, and a number of business owners in the Chief of Staff space who are destined for the cover of Forbes in a few short years for being first adopters championing this role in organizations.

Oxford is an idyllic setting filled with tradition and beauty yet still on the cutting edge of what's relevant now in business. This was a programme that made me better both professionally and personally. The amount of gratitude I feel from my boss, my company, my community, and my new network is immeasurable.

I'm most excited to pay it forward actively and in a way that those of you who know of me are familiar with...education. As I'd mentioned, this entire journey was a bit of an experiment to show that a top EA can realize a career path beyond EA to the CEO. This was never a narrative or "a thing" in previous years. It's a role I had aspired to for decades but always felt the door slammed shut to me the second I read the pervasive job description. Well, times have changed. And I've proven the model. And there are now more conspicuous levels and customized "flavors" of the Chief of Staff role vs. the one-size-fits-all narrative of the past. So be warned...I'm baaa-aack! And excited to spend a number of my Saturdays at a table all over the globe with EAs and newer Chiefs of Staff looking for community, education, and those "really REAL" conversations my workshops are famous for. Additionally, this kicks off writing a new book specifically about making the transition into the Chief of Staff role that will drop at the beginning of 2023.

Sincere thanks to Trent Smyth, Jeremy Costa, Rupert Younger, and the incredible staff at The Chief of Staff Association and Saīd Business School at Oxford University. This was a life-changing experience and one I will never forget. If you are a Chief of Staff or interested in becoming one, I can't recommend this cohort and the Chief of Staff Association highly enough. It has given me back my "mojo" and opened my eyes to an entirely new opportunity to provide value to my CEO and the company using my entire toolbox and allow me to continue paying it forward and build legacy as I approach the back end of my career.

Oh...and a quick pit stop in London on easily the most idyllic day I've experienced in ages bookended a memory I'll never forget.


Share this article

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

terms and condition.
  • No comments found

Share this article

Phoenix Normand

Society Expert

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.


Latest Articles

View all
  • Science
  • Technology
  • Companies
  • Environment
  • Global Economy
  • Finance
  • Politics
  • Society
Cookies user prefences
We use cookies to ensure you to get the best experience on our website. If you decline the use of cookies, this website may not function as expected.
Accept all
Decline all
Read more
Tools used to analyze the data to measure the effectiveness of a website and to understand how it works.
Google Analytics