Make 2016 the year you change your ‘Chief of Staff’

Well we’re looking at the beginning another year; this one being 2016. And with it comes a resurgence of optimism taking form in our annual resolutions. We all want to believe that this year will be the one when all the promises we make to ourselves to lose weight, save money, stop smoking, or whatever – will last longer than just the end of January. Who knows, maybe you will be one of the few where they do. Or maybe you’re one of those cynically realistic ones that believes the whole resolution thing is pointless. In the past I kind of fell somewhere in the middle. I still can’t let go of this optimism thing.

Being 2016 – it’s a presidential election year … if you call it that. I view it more a grotesque call-in reality show. But that’s just my opinion. Regardless, I’m not here to debate its legitimacy, but rather to have discussion on the logistics of politics, governing and specifically the role of the ‘gatekeeper’ otherwise known as the Chief of Staff.

According to Wikipedia, a ‘Chief of Staff’ provides a buffer between a chief executive and that executive’s direct-reporting team (amongst others). The chief of staff generally works behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes, and deal with issues before they are brought to the chief executive. Often a Chief of Staff act as a confidante and advisor to the chief executive, acting as a sounding board for ideas.

Don’t we all have an internal Chief of Staff; the part of us that determines what we’re going think about, what we’re going do and how we prioritize?

Gulliver 3

Metaphorically speaking, our minds are kind of like Gulliver of the famous English work of satire by Jonathan Swift . Every minute of every day we are pushed, pulled and tied down by our own Lilliputians. These mental intruders can be our family, our friends, our co-workers or even the media we see on the television or bloggers on the internet. But most of all … they are ourselves taking the form of our definition of societal norms and expectations. They are the parts of us that make us afraid of things we shouldn’t be afraid of.  They make us preoccupied with our To Do lists – lists that often are prioritized with tasks that are more habits than anything else. “We have to check our emails first everyday rather than write a letter, listen to music or just relax and clear our minds.”

These things that dictate our thoughts and actions are really no different from what the President deals with daily. He is bombarded by his staff, members of Congress and lobbyists … all with their own personal agendas and priorities. These priorities often have nothing to do with those of the President. If he (or she) had his way, they’d probably spend their time thinking – pondering the big picture … hopefully trying to make the world a better place (again my naive optimism showing).

It’s the job of the Chief of Staff to determine who occupies the President’s attention, and in turn his agenda and priorities. Imagine if there was no Chief of Staff though.  It would be endless barrage of “squeaky wheels” … with no WD40 anywhere in sight.

Whether we know it or not, we all have a Chief of Staff. Who this is and what effect they have on us is completely up to us. Do we push them to the side and just react the whims of our many influences and intrusions, both external or internal?  Or do we give them the power to cut the Lilliputians’ ropes mentally tying us down? How we delegate this authority, this gate-keeping – will determine how we live our life.

But how does your personal ‘Chief’ interact with these intrusions? Is your Chief of the “in your face” mode of Rahm Emanuel, or more of the “in the background” demeanor of Obama’s current Chief of Staff (who’s so much in the background, I don’t even remember who he is). You probably don’t want to be hostile to your kids for wanting a ride to the mall (that’s so ’80s); but conversely, you don’t want to be so passive to let every mundane intrusion run your life.

First you need to communicate with your Chief or Staff about your priorities. Make sure ‘gatekeeper’ knows the things that excite and energize you … the things that allow you to be who you want to be, not just tasks on a To Do list. Don’t let other’s representation of the world and what they think should be important dictate yours. Yes ‘media,’ I’m talking to you and all your scare-mongering terrorism hysteria. It’s hard to concentrate on ‘good’ things and on helping the world when you’re scared of anyone not like you because underneath you think they’re nothing but a terrorist or some other “trumped” threat promulgated by the media (for their own benefit).

Or is your Chief of Staff a holdover from past administrations such as your parents or even your grandparents. Societal expectations such as the white picket fence, the virtue of a college degree (and it’s mainline to financial and social success and stature) as well as the goal of a career with one company (retirement at 65 and then a life of golf and fishing) – are little more than distorted memories seen through rose-colored glasses of those generations past.

If you’re one of those who are still believes in resolutions – your resolutions can’t operate in a vacuum. It’s like addiction recovery. Just ‘stopping’ doesn’t work. A wholesale change needs to happen with the addict’s ecosystem. Going back to the same environment, with the same acquaintances (I hesitate to call them friends) and performing the same daily routine will lead nowhere but the road to relapse. First the addict has to not only change the priorities of their Chief of Staff, but give them the boot and start new. While your situation starting out 2016 may not be as drastic as this … your world may still require a changing of the guard to accomplish the goals you’ve set for the new year.

Who you select for your own internal Chief of Staff, and how they act, is up to you. Remember you are the President of Yourself … and your mind is your White House. And maybe it’s time to shake things up.

After all … it’s a new year.


Come and join me on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+.

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