A Brief History of the Chief of Staff Role



In almost any modern organization, a seasoned advisor, strategist, and gatekeeper are indispensable for smooth operations and effective decision-making. Enter the Chief of Staff—a role that has played a crucial part in both military endeavors, political landscapes, and the corporate world. In this blog post, we delve into the rich history and significance of the Chief of Staff role, exploring its evolution and projecting a promising future for this integral position.

The Chief of Staff in the Military

The origins of the Chief of Staff role can be traced back to military operations. Historically, this role emerged to support commanding officers by managing communication, coordinating units, and overseeing strategic planning. The Chief of Staff acts as a linchpin, ensuring efficient execution of plans and optimal utilization of resources on the battlefield.

One of the earliest known references to the Chief of Staff role in the military can be found during the Napoleonic era in the early 19th century. Napoleon Bonaparte appointed Louis-Alexandre Berthier as his Chief of Staff, setting a precedent for the critical position that would later become an integral part of military command structures worldwide.

Over time, this role has evolved to encompass a broader spectrum of responsibilities. Today, military Chiefs of Staff often play pivotal roles in policy formulation, intelligence gathering, and fostering collaboration among various branches of the armed forces. Their expertise and guidance significantly influence the success and efficacy of military endeavors.

Notable military Chiefs of Staff, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Colin Powell, have left lasting legacies, showcasing the impact a skilled Chief of Staff can have on military strategy and operations.

The Chief of Staff in Politics/Government

In the realm of politics and government, the Chief of Staff role has seen a similar evolution. Initially emerging as a secretary or administrative assistant, this role has metamorphosed into a position of tremendous influence and responsibility. Modern-day Chiefs of Staff in government are key advisors to heads of state or political leaders, managing communication, setting agendas, and coordinating policy initiatives.

One of the earliest documented references to a Chief of Staff in the political sphere is during the early 20th century in the United States. President William McKinley appointed James A. Garfield as his Chief of Staff, recognizing the need for a key advisor to assist in managing the demands of the presidency and coordinating activities with various departments.

The Chief of Staff serves as a vital bridge between the leader and other government officials, streamlining decision-making and ensuring the leader's vision is effectively implemented. Historical figures like H.R. Haldeman, Chief of Staff to President Richard Nixon, and Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama, exemplify the pivotal role a Chief of Staff can play in shaping policies and the overall trajectory of a government.

The Chief of Staff in Corporations

In the corporate world, the Chief of Staff role has gained traction as organizations recognize the need for a right-hand person to the CEO. Originally adopted from the military and political spheres, the Chief of Staff has been adapted to suit the dynamics of a corporate environment.

While the formal title and structure may have varied, an early precursor to the Chief of Staff role in the corporate world can be seen with the rise of the "assistant" or "secretary to the CEO" in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As corporations expanded and became more complex, executives increasingly relied on trusted advisors to help manage their schedules, communications, and decision-making processes.

Today, the Chief of Staff is often a strategic partner to the CEO, overseeing special projects, facilitating communication across departments, and ensuring alignment with organizational objectives. This role is instrumental in maintaining cohesion within the company and promoting effective decision-making at the executive level.

Leaders like Sheryl Sandberg, who served as Chief of Staff to Larry Summers at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, highlight the potential of this role to drive transformation and growth within corporations.

The Bright Future of the Chief of Staff Role

As organizations become more complex and multifaceted, the Chief of Staff role is poised to become increasingly indispensable. The need for a dedicated individual to streamline operations, facilitate communication, and support the highest-ranking executives is evident across various sectors.

A Chief of Staff can provide invaluable assistance in navigating the intricacies of the modern business landscape. From aiding in decision-making to fostering collaboration and innovation, this role has the potential to be a linchpin for success. Embracing the Chief of Staff role can lead to more agile, efficient, and visionary organizations.


In a world where adaptability and efficiency are paramount, the Chief of Staff role stands as a beacon of effective leadership and support. From its origins in the military to its integration into the political and corporate spheres, this role has continuously proven its worth.

Looking forward, the Chief of Staff role is set to evolve and proliferate across a myriad of organizations, bolstering their capabilities and fostering a brighter future. Every modern company stands to gain from integrating a Chief of Staff, ensuring a well-organized, harmonious, and prosperous journey forward.

Let's embrace the potential of the Chief of Staff role, recognizing it as a cornerstone for progress and success in the dynamic landscapes of tomorrow.

Written by Lawrence Coburn, CEO and Co-Founder

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