History's Greatest Chief of Staff Just Gave 2 Sentences of Genius Advice to the Newbie

Scott Mautz

James A. Baker III is regarded as the gold-standard in Chief of Staffs--and he just laid down a golden nugget of leadership wisdom for the newcomer.

In the chaos that is Capitol Hill, a wisp of golden wisdom arose through the smoke this week--something any leader can rally around.

First, by way of background, with Reince Priebus out, the new Chief of Staff John F. Kelly takes the job, a job that historically has tended to be a revolving door position. And with a President practiced at the term "You're Fired", it promises to be even more challenging.

Enter James A. Baker III, widely hailed as the most successful White House Chief of Staff of all time and the only Chief to ever occupy the office two different times for two different presidents (Ronald Reagan and George Bush). The New York Times reported that Baker offered sage advice to the new Chief of Staff (some of the wisest counsel I've heard in a while):

"You can focus on the 'Chief', or you can focus on the 'of Staff'. Those who have focused on the 'of Staff' have done pretty well."

And that, my friends, is the key to leadership.

Most have heard the fact that the number one reason people leave their company is due to their manager. Poor relationships with the boss so very often can be boiled down to a simple truth. Much of the miscreant manager's behavior is rooted in the fact that they're focused on looking good for their boss, and not focused on the wants and needs of their people.

They're focusing on the "Chief", and not the "of Staff".

Period.

Whether it's the White House or Westinghouse, it's no different.

Others-oriented leaders start from a place that considers the staff first, helping them to become better versions of themselves while corralling all that positivity into results. Such an orientation builds relationships and bonds because it comes from a place of servitude.

Leaders focused on managing up by definition don't look down and around. Their orientation starts from a place of "What does the boss need? What will make me look good in the boss's eyes?" A host of unsavory behaviors, in many shapes and forms, flows down from there. Such an orientation corrodes relationships and severs bonds because it comes from a place of self-servitude.

Note that I'm not saying leadership equals ignoring the boss. It's about the orientation.

And speaking of orientation, as John F. Kelly takes the job, he'd be wise to consider the balance between 'Chief' and 'of Staff'.

You should too.