Well it’s almost the beginning of another year; this one being 2019. And with it comes a resurgence of optimism taking form in our annual resolutions (all things considered). 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 who believes the whole resolution exercise is pointless. In the past I kind of fell somewhere in the middle. But I still can’t let go of this optimism thing.
Being 2019 – we just got over the midterm elections from two months ago. And already we’re hearing about the plethora of candidates jockeying for position for the 2020 presidential election. It’s all about the horse race (i.e. the election) … and very little about the governing that will follow. Personally, the logistics of governance is far more interesting to me than the popularity contest of the election. Most specifically, I’m intrigued by 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 (among 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 acts 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?
Reigning in the Lilliputians
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, social media or even the cable news we see on television. They are making 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 Facebook and Twitter feeds first everyday rather than write a letter, play with the kids or just relax and clear our minds.”
These Lilliputians 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 little to do with those of the President. If he (or she) had their 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.
But how does your personal ‘Chief’ interact with these intrusions? Is your Chief of the “in your face” mode of Rahm Emanuel, from the first Obama term, or more of the “in the background” demeanor of Obama’s second term Chief of Staff (who was so much in the background, I don’t even remember who he was). 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 and the methods required to accomplish them. A changing of the process can often be the most important component your journey. Make sure your ‘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-up” threat promulgated by the media (most often for their own financial benefit) and worse yet, the current administration.
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 the erroneous assumption it’s a guarantee of financial and social success) are little more than distorted memories seen through rose-colored glasses of those generations past. Society is changing at breakneck speeds and that requires a realist view of the world today and your potential role in it. Your Chief of Staff, the priorities you dictate and the processes to achieve them must reflect that.
If you’re one of those who 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 within 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 2019 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 let’s hope you’re not using Trump to emulate) … 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