Help wanted: White House chief of staff

An executive recruiter tells clients that the most important factor in creating a successful recruitment is the crafting of a job description. This begs the key question: just what is President Donald J. Trump looking for in a chief of staff?

Experience suggests that a division of labor inside the White House is critically important to a successful presidency. One individual cannot lead the staff and sort out the hundreds of “priorities” pressed upon a president daily and still provide the thoughtful leadership required of a commander-in-chief.

ADVERTISEMENT

Over the past several decades, the job has been done differently, to be sure. But, the chief of staff role has evolved over time, been given Cabinet rank and has taken on a level of importance necessitated by the challenges of the Office of the President.

On any given day, members of the president’s Cabinet seek direction on issues large and larger (there are really no small matters that make their way to the White House). Congressional leaders seek to understand administration policy and want direction on major pieces of legislation. Governors throughout 50 states want to consult on emergencies. Leaders from around the world must be consulted and given opportunities to exchange views.

Finally, inside the 40-acre compound where the White House sits are a few hundred people carrying cards stating that they “assist the president,” and many want time and attention to those things that matter to them. Also, inside the compound, is a White House press corps that comes in every day hoping for a chance to witness the president in action and to be able to tell at least one story by the end of the day.

The chief of staff must balance all of this for 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Maybe stamina is the most important ingredient.

So, let’s consider the job description. It is really a set of boxes that need to be carefully considered. Here are, in my view, the boxes to check by the president as he considers candidates:

___ Demeanor — The person needs to get along with others while leading;

___ Leadership — This isn’t a place to learn how to effectively lead others; the person needs to command a diverse, strong-willed group, moving them as a team towards clear objectives;

___ Experience — Understanding the challenges facing a president and the workings of Washington is crucial, especially for a president who lacks Washington experience;

___ Judgment — A thousand times a day the individual must decide what gets raised with the president, which events are accepted, who needs to be called on Capitol Hill or around the world; some call it gatekeeping, but the chief of staff is the last stop everything must pass through before a person, an issue or a message lands in the Oval Office;

___ Policy focus — While not requiring a specific subject matter expertise, knowing how to evaluate and present policy options is important to ensure organized decision-making in foreign affairs, national security and domestic policy areas;

___ Political focus — With reelection approaching and another round of House and Senate races in 2020, understanding how to strengthen the president’s political hand among key constituencies is vital; and, working with leaders on both side of the aisle requires increasing political skill;

___ Compatibility — Today’s chief of staff role requires hours of interaction every day with the president; mutual respect and total honesty between them is required for the relationship to work effectively;

___ Command focus — More than just personal commitment, which is essential, a chief of staff must maintain clear focus on achieving objectives and meeting challenges; and, in the modern White House, the challenges come fast and furious.

Will this be President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated MORE’s list? Should we care?

Of course we should. 

The chief of staff provides a crucial balance in the White House, keeping the president connected to people in a manner that efficiently utilizes time designed to achieve a mission. At all times, the role is important to those serving in the administration and to all of us as citizens. When crises come, and they will, it is even more vital.

Will the president choose wisely? We can only hope so. But to do so, he first needs to focus on the job he wants done and the qualities in an individual ideally suited to serve.

He prides himself on having hired thousands of people for jobs in the private sector. This hire may well be the president’s most important.

Craig Fuller served President Ronald Reagan from 1981-85 as assistant to the president and head of the Office of Cabinet Affairs, and then became chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush from 1985-89. He co-chaired President-elect Bush’s transition office and chaired the Republican National Convention in 1992. He then led two major associations and was a consultant in Washington. He now runs his own firm, The Fuller Company.