When Your Job Comes Without a Map, You Need This Skill

I didn’t have to think too much about how to tackle my first full-time job, covering the education beat for a small daily newspaper. It was all explained to me in a few hours by the reporter I was replacing. There were regular school board meetings, attendance zone redistricting meetings, and press releases that arrived daily from district headquarters on the fax machine. All I needed to do was follow up. The job came with a well-defined map.

As I advanced in my career, the maps grew sketchier; bosses expected me to think for myself. That absence of clear direction could be a little nerve-wracking, but gradually I began to appreciate the upside: a vaguely defined job provided the opportunity to remake it into something new and exciting.

That was all good preparation for what came next – a deputy chief of staff role that I was the first in the organization to hold and then a chief of staff job for which my predecessor created an excellent playbook but which morphed quickly as chief of staff jobs are prone to do.

All of which is to say: if you’re a chief of staff or want to become one, especially in the pandemic era, you’d better be good at drawing maps. One of the very best at this was legendary U.S. presidential chief of staff Jim Baker, whose success was grounded in one particular skill: learning agility.

To read the rest of this post, please visit Prime Chief of Staff, a chief of staff advisory firm that recently published this full column. Though I wrote this column specifically for chiefs of staff, in this pandemic-riddled world most of us are having to redefine what work looks like. Learning agility is a trait we all need to develop – and there highly tangible steps for doing that.

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