The CIO role in the digital age is more demanding than ever. According to MIT\u2019s George Westerman, \u201cThere has never been a better time to be a great CIO, nor a worse time to be an average one.\u201d Great CIOs know they can\u2019t do it all alone, though. We\u2019ve discussed the HR business partner and communications lead, but no role is more vital to a successful CIO than the chief of staff.\n\nWait a minute, some readers might say. Doesn\u2019t the chief of staff just schedule meetings and take notes and stuff?\n\nThat\u2019s outdated thinking. Without question, the chief of staff is sometimes lead wrangler and head logistics officer, but leading IT organizations are filling this role with talented leaders who manage strategy and innovation, not calendars.\n\nThe Est\u00e9e Lauder Companies\u2019 CIO, Michael W. Smith, swears by the value of a good chief of staff: \u201cThis role is a natural extension of the CIO and allows him or her to work with other stakeholders and executives across the business,\u201d he says.\n\nChief of staff core skills\n\nIf the role is so often restricted to functional administration, how can CIOs define a larger, more strategic scope \u2014 and fill it with the right partner? Talking to a trio of stellar chiefs of staff, I learned there are three core skills, plus a key secret ingredient, that define the kind of chief of staff who can help a CIO lead IT, and the business, forward.\n\nResilience: Never a dull moment\n\nEffective chiefs of staff readily adapt to a changing business environment because the rug will get pulled out from under them.\n\n\u201cSomebody once described part of this role as being like a Roomba,\u201d says The Est\u00e9e Lauder Companies\u2019 Kimberly Saxton. \u201cYou hit an obstacle and then you back up and try again from a different angle until you get around it.\u201d\n\nSaxton held three chief of staff roles with Michael Smith \u2014 and she says even with the same executive, circumstances shaped both the overall role and the day-to-day, every time.\n\n\u201cIt shifted tremendously based on the organizational needs, the strategy needed, the unique nuances of the organization\u2019s culture, and where the IT department had been in its evolution,\u201d she says.\n\nStephanie Seugling is chief of staff to TIAA Head of Client Services Technology Darrell Fernandes, and though she has carved out a sizable scope of responsibility, she also faces \u2014 and embraces \u2014 unpredictability. She says that while 60% of her time is spent on defined responsibilities around workforce and financial management, and a focus on stability, governance and accountability, there\u2019s also \u201cthis other, kind of random 40%, which I love.\u201d\n\n\u201cI know that's definitely not the case with a lot of folks,\u201d she says, \u201cbut I like problem solving. I like the energy and being able to execute.\u201d\n\nNiki Allen, who was chief of staff to Boeing CIO Ted Colbert, says about 25% of her day-to-day felt structured and predictable, with as much as 75% of it requiring that up-for-anything MacGyver adaptability.\n\n\u201cThis role requires pure perseverance,\u201d she says. \u201cYou\u2019ve got to be a little bit of a utility player who\u2019s not afraid to deal with a lot of white space.\u201d\n\n\u201cBe open to be falling in love with the problem,\u201d Seugling says, \u201cand just roll up your sleeves, dive in and have fun with it.\u201d\n\nStrategic mindset: Trusted advisor and force multiplier\n\n\u201cCritical thinking is huge,\u201d says Allen. She specifically defined her chief of staff role in terms of strategy and says she quickly was seen as \u201cchief strategic advisor.\u201d By the time she left the role, she led a 90-person team with responsibility for global sourcing and data strategies, M&A integration, and IT operations.\n\nThat\u2019s considerable growth for a position that was entirely functional under her predecessor, but it\u2019s exactly what Colbert needed to lead a high-tech company through an ambitious digital transformation.\n\nEffective problem solving and the ability to think creatively not only make the chief of staff a reliable advisor and partner to the CIO, but they make the role a force multiplier, as Kim Saxton puts it.\n\n\u201cI knew that for Ted to be able to lead our digital transformation successfully, he couldn\u2019t be everywhere,\u201d Allen says. \u201cThe more a CIO can position the chief of staff to be a proxy, the stronger the opportunity to not only set a foundation and a vision for the organization, but to actually deliver on it.\u201d\n\nRelationships: Leadership and influence\n\nThe chief of staff often must influence without direct authority. Fostering collaborative relationships and building consensus in a matrixed, networked environment requires a lot of emotional intelligence, tremendous empathy, and an ability to be both an ally and an inspiration.\n\n\u201cI like to say I have a thousand people working for me, because that's who\u2019s under Darrell,\u201d Seugling says. \u201cBut how I lead is through influence, direct communication, and transparency.\u201d\n\nAll three women told me that a chief of staff also has to be able to lead from the front.\n\n\u201cYou have to have the confidence to lead even when there\u2019s a lot of uncertainty,\u201d Allen says.\n\nChemistry: The secret sauce\n\nStrategy, leadership, and resilience are important in many strategic roles. But a unique quality that every chief of staff cited was the specific dynamic with their executive.\n\n\u201cIt\u2019s a unique relationship,\u201d Seugling says. \u201cI haven\u2019t seen chiefs of staff succeed without that chemistry, and without a lot of trust, which is earned by delivery. That trust ensures that you can be candid and clear with each other and supportive.\u201d\n\nTrust and a strong relationship, says Saxton, which means being able to walk up to your executive and say, \u201cNo, your idea doesn't work, and here's why.\u201d\n\n\u201cI would never contradict the CIO in a meeting because I was there to support him,\u201d she notes. \u201cBut outside of the meeting, I was always willing to have conversations like, \u2018Hey, maybe we could have handled this another way,\u2019 or \u2018Here's where maybe we want to think differently.\u2019\u201d\n\nDeveloping new leaders\n\nWhen you put such remarkable players into this key position, you\u2019re also helping to create future leaders for your organization.\n\nCase in point: Boeing\u2019s Colbert was a chief of staff earlier in his career. \u201cServing as a chief of staff to the CIO allows you to see much broader dimensions of leadership as it relates to relationships and company strategy,\u201d he explains. \u201cWhen you move on to the next role, your decision making has better alignment with the strategic intent of the company.\u201d\n\nIt sure seems like it. Allen is now Boeing\u2019s vice president of HR transformation, leading rollout and adoption of new HR systems that touch 155,000 employees in 65 countries, as well as the company\u2019s extensive alumni network. Saxton is vice president of Est\u00e9e Lauder\u2019s Clinique brand operations, helping to shape and execute strategy for that global line. And Seugling, in her current high-profile role as both chief of staff and director of production services portfolio operations, is eying her further evolution as well.\n\n\u201cThis role gives you the depth and the breadth of running a business, and the exposure is amazing,\u201d she says. \n\nToday\u2019s CIO is called upon to be many things: An innovator with an eye for business, as well as technology; a leader who drives change; and an inspirational magnet for talent. But no executive is an island, and the most successful CIOs know that it takes a trusted lieutenant to both personify and execute on these ambitious goals.